Nov. 8 election for LA city controller between Paul Koretz and Kenneth Mejia is filled with drama

Two candidates are vying to become the city’s top auditor at Los Angeles City Hall, which has been rocked by a series of scandals in which three former City Councilmembers are accused of corruption, including Jose Huizar, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mitch Englander — who was recently released from prison.

The race for the city’s chief fiscal watchdog doesn’t usually draw much attention. But the race between Paul Koretz, who is leaving the City Council due to term limits, and activist and accountant Kenneth Mejia, has been filled with drama.

Koretz, a low-key longtime politician who represents City Council District 5, has criticized his opponent Mejia for his calls to defund the police and for mocking President Joe Biden. Koretz has called out Mejia for using hashtag #joebidenisaracist, and saying on Twitter, “I can’t waste my vote this year voting for Joe Biden as much as me & my Democrat friends love him as a rapist & racist.”

“I can’t even imagine how crazy some of his ideas and proposals are,” Koretz said in a recent interview. “When he decided to run, he completely changed and some people — including the L.A. Times (editorial board) — have just advanced his narratives. Months later, suddenly, he’s just the benign accountant that puts nice things on his website.”

If Mejia becomes city controller, Koretz added, he would have “zero credibility with the council, and when you do an audit, it’s the council that has to advance and implement it. And the mayor and department heads — he has no credibility with any of them.”

If Mejia’s effectiveness is dependent on working with others, Koretz said, “he has zero relationships in City Hall.”

But Mejia said what makes him a strong candidate is that his name is not tied to City Hall and its drama, following leaked audio of racist remarks made by city council members including Nury Martinez, during a backroom meeting with a union leader a year ago.

“Being an outsider, I’m not beholden to anybody,” Mejia said. “I can easily hold the City Council, the mayor, departments and programs more accountable and to be more effective. Rather than if you were an insider, it’s much tougher to call out your old colleagues and your old friends.”

Mejia argues that he didn’t call to defund the police, as Koretz says, but instead that he was live-tweeting comments at a city budget hearing, and he was quoting a caller who urged the city to defund the LAPD.

“(Koretz) dishonestly is taking that quote from someone else and he is saying that I said that,” he said. “These are desperate tactics by him that have been easily disproved.”

When it comes to his comments about Biden being a rapist, Mejia said he apologized for those statements.

“Those comments definitely do not represent me today or the campaign when we launched it in December 2020,” he said. “That’s something I take accountability for. That’s something that is not me and I apologized for that.”

One of the two men will succeed Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, who backs Kortez, and is known for publishing widely read reports on spending and policies in the city’s vast system of departments, monitored by his staff of about 160 employees who prepare financial reports and handle financial and performance audits throughout City Hall.

LA City Controller Ron Galperin. (Photo courtesy of Galperin.)

Before his election to the Los Angeles City Council in 2009, Koretz served as a West Hollywood councilman from 1988 to 2000 and a California state assemblyman from 2000 to 2006.

During his more than 12 years on the L.A. City Council, Koretz has worked on numerous programs such as creating the Climate Emergency Mobilization Office with Councilmember Bob Blumenfield to address toxic neighborhood pollution, backed the Eviction Defense program aimed at protecting tenants, and proposed the creation of a database of affordable housing units in L.A.

“It took a lengthy period of time,” Koretz said in a recent interview, “but the city has been putting together a database of all the affordable housing and different units and putting together a list — to be sure that people that are truly low-income end up being the ones that get those units.”

One key issue he would tackle as city controller, he said, is an audit of the increasingly criticized Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “I called for the elimination of LAHSA and replacement with the more functional entity, because even though they’re largely a creation of the city and county, they’re completely dysfunctional and they don’t really serve the city of Los Angeles,” he said.

He would also take a close look at the inefficiencies in Los Angeles Police Department’s budget. Despite the fact that he is a strong supporter of law enforcement, Koretz said, “There are some reforms that are needed, and there are some things that the department does that could be done in a more efficient way.”

He would focus on auditing all environmental city programs, especially those related to climate change, one of his longtime concerns, he added.

Among Koretz’ endorsements is Galperin, who said in a statement, “Without much fanfare, Paul has put forward many efficiencies which have saved the city and taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Galperin called Koretz “an ally in my efforts to hold local government accountable and I know he will continue my work seeking innovative solutions that will keep our city honest and accountable to its people.”

A bevy of past Los Angeles city controllers have endorsed Koretz, including Laura Chick, Wendy Greuel, Rick Tuttle and Ira Reiner — along with California Attorney General Rob Bonta and U.S. Senator Alex Padilla.

Mejia graduated in 2010 from Woodbury University with a bachelor of science in accounting. He received his certified public accountant license and worked on audits of multi-million and billion-dollar private and public companies.

In 2016, he joined the L.A. Tenants Union to organize and fight alongside tenants hit with rent increases and facing evictions.

From 2017 to 2018, he was a member of the Koreatown Neighborhood Council, where he advocated for tenant protections under consideration by the L.A. City Council, according to his campaign website.

Mejia said in an interview that he is the perfect candidate because he can show the public how the city spends its money.

“Everyone wants to know where the money is being spent,” he said. “They want to know if it’s being used correctly or effectively.”

Mejia said he would make the controller’s website user-friendly, so residents could see how the city spent its money. Some issues he would focus on, he added, included providing transparency in spending on homelessness programs, housing, police and animal services.

“Right now on the city’s websites, there are no detailed, itemized spending ledgers,” he claimed in an interview. “People don’t really know what we’re spending our money on. I think that that’s a huge problem because a lot of people are not trusting the government when it comes to homelessness. And that’s because we don’t know where the money is going.”

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But Chick, a former Los Angeles City Councilmember and past City Controller, said that while Mejia is capable of showing how the city spends its money, “He is not going to help the city save money and that’s what city controller should be all about, making sure the city is managed in the best possible way. He is not interested in that.”

Mejia notes that he didn’t wait to be elected to serve the city’s residents. His website, which he said has had 260,000 hits since he launched it in December, has a resources page of data and maps on city parks, affordable housing, parking tickets and LAPD traffic and pedestrian stops.

“We’re already making data more transparent and more accessible,” he said.

Mejia has picked up endorsements from the Los Angeles Times editorial board, Councilman Mike Bonin and Eunisses Hernandez, elected in June to replace District 1 City Councilmember Gil Cedillo. Cedillo is one of the three council members urged to resign after a tape was leaked from a backroom meeting filled with racist comments involving Cedillo, Nury Martinez and Kevin de Leon.

Related links

Amid scandal, Nury Martinez resigns as LA City Council president but stays on council
Mark Ridley-Thomas co-defendant Marilyn Flynn pleads guilty in bribery case
Tearing the fabric of municipal trust: A guide to corruption cases in Los Angeles City Hall
Brother of ex-LA City Councilman José Huizar agrees to plead guilty
LA’s Neighborhood Council leaders urge tougher ethics laws at City Hall

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