Meg Whitman, California Republican gubernatorial candidate and former CEO of EBay, is accusing her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown of presiding over ballooning salaries while he was the mayor of Oakland. Whitman contends Brown's Oakland administration is similar to the recent scandal that has rocked the Southern California city of Bell, where in a city of only 40,000 residents, some top city officials were pulling down nearly $800,000 a year.Whitman's made her charges in a new mailer to 180,000 Los Angeles households and a radio ad airing statewide.
In the 60 second ad, the announcer says, "In Jerry Brown's Oakland, city workers were paid for 22,000 hours that they never worked. The total number of city workers making $200,000 a year, went up to 700 percent."The accusations come as Brown, the current attorney general, expands his office's investigation into the Bell controversy. Three of the city's top administrators have stepped down.
Residents of the city of Bell have since blasted Whitman for butting into their imbroglio, "We have a simple message for Meg Whitman. Don't take the suffering of Bell residents and use it for political purposes. Cease and Desist!" said Denise Rodarte, with the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse.
The Brown campaign has chosen not to comment on the controversy, happy to let Bell residents do the talking. However, one aide took this jab, "This is what an attorney general does. I guess I wouldn't expect someone who hasn't voted in 28 years to know that." Whitman has apologized for her poor voting record and calls it "atrocious."
California public pensions is another issue the two gubernatorial candidates have been squaring off over lately. Brown has called for public pension reform, embracing some ideas brought to the table by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to tame the crippling cost of the state worker retirement system.
Brown has said that if elected, he will ask current state employees to contribute more to their pension plans and would also raise the retirement age for new hires. The former governor also said he would end the practice of pension "spiking," where employees pile on bonuses and overtime during their final year to boost pensions. Under Brown's plan, benefits would be based on the average of an employee's last three years instead of the final year.
Whitman's camp calls Brown's views on the subject hypocritical, claiming that during his time as Oakland Mayor, Brown played "an active role in reaching consensus" on a labor agreement with the SEIU and engineers' union that led to a "major pension boost" for employees in Oakland. His critics say those increased pension costs resulted in cuts to police and other services in Oakland.
"Jerry Brown actually reforming public pensions is as phony as a three dollar bill," said Whitman spokesperson Andrea Jones Rivera. "When money was on the line, Jerry Brown put public employee union interests ahead of taxpayers, and now the unions are paying for his campaign lock, stock and barrel."
In the big picture this race has become a contest between Meg Whitman's sizable fortune and Jerry Brown's name recognition from his long record of public service in the state.
Whitman has spent nearly $100 million of her own fortune, saturating the costly airwaves in the Golden State, which lately has run her about $2 million per week.
By contrast, the Brown campaign has spent a paltry $700,000 to date, relying instead on Brown's lengthy political career. He is the current state attorney general, served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983, was the secretary of state before his time as governor and served two terms as the mayor of Oakland from 1998 to 2006.
However, in an election cycle where voters have been kicking out incumbents all over the country, the question has become whether Brown's impressive resume will end up helping or hurting him on Election Day.