The Department of Water and Power's influential employee union will join forces with Hollywood studio executives to launch an extensive media campaign in support of City Controller Wendy Greuel for mayor.
Working Californians, an independent expenditure committee funded by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 and entertainment industry donors, is launching a television, mailer and radio campaign, political consultant Sean Clegg said.
The media rollout could raise Greuel's profile, posing a threat to rival City Councilman Eric Garcetti. Garcetti and Greuel are nearly tied in recent polls and fundraising, with Garcetti holding a slight lead in both.
Councilwoman Jan Perry and attorney Kevin James are also considered leading candidates vying to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Organized labor's partnership with the entertainment industry represents a "formidable campaign" Clegg said. "We haven't seen an alliance like this," he said.
"Entertainment industry leaders and working families support Wendy Greuel because she means business when it comes to job creation," Rose Kapolczynski, Greuel's campaign director said, in response to the Working Californians announcement.
Greuel's competitors quickly criticized the independent expenditure committee.
"It is now clear that Wendy Greuel is the candidate of the status quo," said Jeff Millman, consultant for Garcetti.
The DWP's union, which represents more than 8,000 workers, frequently pours money into city races, making it a major presence in elections.
Independent expenditure committees are forbidden from coordinating with campaigns, but aren't capped at the $1,300-per candidate spending limit, meaning they can spend freely on mailers and TV ads.
To date, Greuel and Garcetti have each raised about $3.5 million, with Garcetti slightly outpacing Greuel. Perry has raised $1.4 million, while James has raised $316,000.
Greuel has a history with the DWP union. When she ran for city controller in 2009, IBEW contributed more than $112,000 to her campaign. A former government relations executive for DreamWorks, she also has ties to the entertainment industry.
Additionally, the union spent more $240,000 trying to elect Chris Essel - a candidate backed by Greuel - to the 2nd District seat in 2009. Then-Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, who beat Essel, portrayed his rival as a union puppet in one of his mailers, and accused IBEW of trying to buy the council seat.
Greuel could face similar complaints.
"It's a red flag," said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, of Working Californians' support of Greuel.
"The unions give money because they want something in return," Close said, predicting the DWP may ask the city to approve raises or higher utility rates.
"The candidates say they will say no, but will they?"
Perry spokesman Eric Hacopian also predicted the unions would come seeking favors.
"Wendy Greuel is bought and paid for by IBEW," said Hacopian. "This latest development is simply the confirmation of that fact. What this means in policy terms is that Wendy Greuel just traded a multi-million dollar IE for her campaign for future DWP rate increases on all ratepayers."
Clegg, a San Francisco-based operative who helped Villaraigosa win office in 2005, dismissed the criticisms.
"I would rather have this alliance than be in the position of the other campaigns," Clegg said.
Among the other candidates backed by Working Californians is Dennis Zine for city controller, and Nury Martinez for Council District 6.