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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First City Attorney debate of 2013 sets scene for spirited campaign

Temple Israel of Hollywood and Hollywood United Methodist Church co-hosted the first City Attorney debate of 2013 Monday night, and the audience were treated to a spirited debate as all four candidates traded barbs to greater or lesser effect, while extolling their qualifications.

Although far from a capacity crowd, the first City Attorney debate of 2013 was well attended.
The debate was skillfully moderated by LA Times Editor-at-Large and Columnist Jim Newton who posed a series of questions to the candidates aimed at focusing on their strengths and weaknesses.

All candidates but Trutanich (far right) appeared to be engaged and enthusiastic at the opportunity to debate their rivals.
As Newton introduced the candidates and set the ground rules for the debate, candidates Mike Feuer, Greg Smith and Noel Weiss looked like they were engaged and prepared for the debate. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, seated at the far end of the table, looked anything but happy to be forced to face his record.

As moderator Jim Newton laid down the rules for the debate, Trutanich (far right) looked like he would rather be elsewhere.
So insecure was Trutanich, that he felt the need to remind the audience that he was 'the incumbent,' during his characteristically rambling opening statement. It was, perhaps, an allusion to the desperate hope that he must cling to, that the power of incumbency will miraculously delay his all but inevitable defeat; if not in the March 5, 2013 primary election, then surely in the equally inevitable run-off.

Greg Smith (center) surprised the audience with his opening statement, hailing his family history of fighting racism.
 Greg Smith delivered one of the evenings many surprises during his opening statement, telling the audience that he was Jewish and that his grandparents, who settled in Los Angeles, had to change their name from Goldman to Coleman to shake off discrimination. Smith's legal career has been focused on fighting discrimination at all levels, something he promises to fight if elected as City Attorney.

Mike Feuer's opening statement summarized his long career in politics as well as his tenure as Executive Director of Bet Tzedek. Feuer declined to comment on the reports that he had received campaign contributions from that organization which appear to be in violation of campaign finance laws.

Once the opening statements had been made the debate moved forward with a series of questions where each candidate was given a minute to respond. Newton had also ingeniously, if not devilishly, assigned a series of questions to the candidates whereby each candidate was tasked with asking a question of a designated opponent.

Greg Smith was tasked with asking a question of Trutanich. It was, perhaps, the highpoint of the evening. In summary, Smith said 'Mr. Trutanich, you've been the City Attorney for almost four years, but you've spent half that time running for District Attorney, and the during that time almost every media outlet has found you to have been untruthful, whether it was going back on your pledge to serve, false claims to endorsements, or false claims about being surrounded by and shot at by gang members. How can we now believe anything you say?'

Greg Smith's question, exposing Trutanich's record of untruthfulness, put the 'incumbent' on the defensive
where he remained for the remainder of the debate as other candidates took the lead established by Smith.
If Smith's question was the 'gotcha' moment that Trutanich had dreaded, his response showed how ill-prepared he was to answer questions about his reputation for being a liar. Trutanich rambled in his response, blaming his campaign for the mistakes that lead to the LA Times branding him 'Carmen Trutanich, I am a Liar.' Smith made a bold move in identifying the only issue that really defines Trutanich; he has no credibility. It was a blow that the 'incumbent' never recovered from during the remainder of the debate. It was a blow that marked Smith as a force to be reckoned with during the remainder of the campaign.

When it was Trutanich's turn to ask a question of Noel Weiss, Trutanich wasted no time in letting his anger at Smith's question become clear. Trutanich asked Weiss to 'Punch Smith!' If the question was supposed to be humorous, if failed to draw but a muted laugh from his supporters, and  simply reinforced his reputation as a bully.

If the first City Attorney debate of 2013 is anything to go by, then the second debate on Thursday night is sure to see Trutanich faced with further attacks and audiences reminded of all the reasons why they so roundly rejected him six months ago.

Trutanich now lags far behind Smith and Feuer in fundraising, and his performance on Monday night seems certain to keep him in a distant third place as Smith and Feuer emerge as the likely runoff candidates.

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