Businessman Austin Beutner was the first guest in the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Meet the Los Angeles Mayoral Candidates” series at an event held in Playa Vista June 14.
Beutner, a former investment banker who announced his candidacy in April, played up his business acumen and credentials for the business-friendly audience during an early morning breakfast at the CenterPointe Club.
The candidate, who co-founded the investment bank Evercore Partners in 1996, was part of a team that assisted the Russian government’s transition to a market economy after the fall of Communism.
He touted Google setting up shop in Venice and the relocation of Gensler, an architecture and design firm, to Los Angeles as successes that have occurred during his time as the city’s economic policy chief.
Beutner said changing the culture at City Hall would be one of the most critical things to focus on for the city’s next mayor.
“That is the greatest challenge facing the city,” he said. “How to empower people who work for the city to get things done.”
The mayoral candidate said serving the public, or whom he referred to several times during his hour-long presentation as the city’s “customers,” would be a hallmark of his administration if he is elected mayor in 2013.
“When I look at the words public service, if you turn it around, it’s serve the public, and that’s what everyone at City Hall should be doing,” Beutner told the audience.
Beutner, who chairs the board of the Broad Stage at Santa Monica College, is also Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s first deputy mayor. During his speech, he sought to distance himself from City Hall and to position himself as someone who can bring solutions to a city government that he says does not function as well as it should.
Beutner did not elaborate on his tenure as the interim head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, but took credit for some of the recent reforms while he was with the utility.
“One of the first things that we did in doing more with less was to cut $263 million in costs in 30 days,” he said.
He also mentioned that during his tenure, DWP General Manager Ron Nichols, whom reform advocates of the public utility have largely given good reviews, was appointed.
Nora MacLellan, a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, said she likes Beutner as a candidate.
“My husband, Douglas and I, have been impressed with Austin Beutner from day one. We first met Austin as part of his involvement as president of the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation,” said MacLellan. “Austin is not one looking for the sound bite, the photo opportunity, the celebrity elbow rub . . . he is out to make our city better by making us all better citizens of the city of Los Angeles.”
Beutner also did not mention that as the interim general manager he opposed Measure I, a ballot initiative to create a ratepayer watchdog for the DWP’s 1.4 million customers. Measure I passed overwhelmingly in the March 8 municipal election.
Like MacLellan, Edgar Saenz, a former state Assembly candidate, is supportive of Beutner.
“I’m so impressed with him that I’m going to vote for him,” said Saenz, a Westchester resident and former field deputy to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester). “He’s about getting things to work and solve problems, and not about the sound bite.”
Three of Beutner’s tenets to improve how the municipal government can be more effective were relatively simple concepts. “If you want to see city services function sensibly, get people in leadership positions who have experience and hold them accountable,” he said. “It’s really that simple.”
The mayoral election will be held in March 2013. City Councilwoman Jan Perry and City Controller Wendy Greuel have also signaled their interest in replacing Villaraigosa.