Suddenly, the Los Angeles city primary on March 3 that looked more like a coronation than an election has sparked new interest with DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras jumping into the race for City Controller where Councilwoman Wendy Greuel had run a $700,000 to zero campaign financing advantage over three little-known challengers.
Out of the 11 posts on the ballot, only the City Attorney and Fifth District Council seat -- both open -- appeared to be competitive with the filing deadline looming Nov. 8.
But with Patsaouras' decision to run and the smoke signals coming from billionaire Rick Caruso that he will challenge Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the prospects for sparking public interest and a public conversation about the direction the city is headed have improved dramatically. Caruso could write a check for the $10 million or so it would take to put pressure on Villaraigosa and Patsaouras has close connections to many prominent political figures and the ability to raise a lot of campaign cash.
"We need someone in the Controller's Office who has the experience, technical knowledge and ability to make sure we're using the best management practices and look after the public's money," Patsaouras told me Monday. "We have to think about our kids and the future of the city."
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Patsaouras, a successful electrical engineer and developer, has 30 years of experience inside city government and developed a reputation as a taxpayer advocate and government watchdog.
He has fought for creation of a ratepayer advocate inside the Department of Water and Power and Villaraigosa appointed him to provide oversight on the new Police Headquarters building. He has filled the same oversight role in construction of the new County-USC Medical Center and Harbor-UCLA Hospital.
City Controller Laura Chick, who is termed out, elevated the importance of the post by being an aggressive watchdog on city agencies, creating a public expectation that whoever succeeds her will continue to question city spending and policies.
"The taxpayers deserve a vigorous campaign," Chick said in a statement. "The people should know what the next Controller will do to protect the public's money, expose waste and fraud and fight to shake up the status quo in City Hall."