Basketball legend Magic Johnson endorsed Wendy Greuel to be Los Angeles’ next mayor on Thursday, saying he selected her because of her broad range of experiences in the public and private sectors, her longtime ties to the African American community and the historic nature of her candidacy to be the city’s first woman mayor.
“We love this woman because she loves us. We love this woman because she’s been in our community many, many years and the fact that she’s going to get the job done,” he said, standing alongside religious, civic and elected officials who are backing Greuel. “When you can put together this group of people to support one candidate, you already know this whole community then supports this candidate, because we speak for a lot of the people who live here.”
“Wendy, I am in your campaign ready to go door to door with you,” he said. “We want to make sure you are the next mayor. We’re going to make history like we did for President Obama.”
Greuel pointed to Johnson’s work not only as a Laker, but also as a businessman who has invested in South Los Angeles.
“It is so important to me be endorsed by Magic Johnson, who has been giving back to this community all his life,” she said. “We know a lot of celebrities come and go. This celebrity, this leader, has been a person who has stayed in this community and given back.”
“I grew up, Magic, watching you play baseball,” Greuel said, and the crowd interrupted to correct her: Johnson had played basketball.
“You did everything right, I thought baseball too. See, I was thinking Dodgers today. Yay Dodgers!” she said, clapping her hands. “He can do everything. So five NBA championships, new ownership for the Dodgers, millions invested in our community, and an inspiration for Angelenos all across Los Angeles on dealing with the issue of AIDS. And [he has] been an amazing friend, particularly here in South Los Angeles. You have never forgotten.”
The endorsement occurred just a few miles from and two hours after gathering where Councilwoman Jan Perry endorsed Greuel’s rival, Eric Garcetti. The two news conferences pointed to the importance of African Americans in the May 21 runoff election. Support from black voters who backed Perry’s unsuccessful bid for mayor during the primary election is being hotly sought.
Some believe the Johnson’s announcement was to counter Perry’s nod. Johnson said that although he told Garcetti about his plan to endorse Greuel on Thursday morning, that the event had been planned for a week. He said that he liked Garcetti but that Greuel’s experiences — working in Mayor Tom Bradley’s and President Clinton’s administrations, at DreamWorks and as an elected official — made her better equipped to tackle the city’s challenges.
During Perry’s news conference, the councilwoman slashed at Greuel for bring up personal issues — Perry’s former financial difficulties — in the primary campaign’s final days. Greuel brushed off the criticism.
“Look, I think that we are public figures. Everything we are doing is [an] open book as people are making choices about the future,” she said. “I received a lot of blows during this campaign, during the beginning. This is for the public to decide, the voters to decide.”
Since the March 5 primary, the candidates have been heavily competing to roll out new endorsements. Garcetti and Perry questioned the value of Greuel’s big-name endorsers such as Clinton and Johnson, questioning what kind of influence they actually have with city voters — church groups, neighborhood councils and the like.
“I admire Magic Johnson very much. He’s a great role model, he’s a tremendous athlete, he’s a great businessman, he’s a very wealthy man, a member of the Guggenheim organization. And, you know, I don’t know if I’d call that grass-roots, but it’s OK,” Perry said. “And I’m happy that he’s wealthy. I have a lot of love for him.”
Johnson bristled at this remark, saying he has long-standing and deep ties to the South Los Angeles.
“I’m not a celebrity. I’m a man of this community and a businessman, and so people know that, and the people of this community know that,” he told reporters. “I’ve been all over here. I’m the one who started all this business. When you look on Crenshaw, I started that, with that Starbucks down there.”
“I’m the one who started redevelopment in South Los Angeles, not Jan Perry. I did it,” he said. “I love Jan. She’s a good person and she did a wonderful job with what she did downtown, but in L.A., South L.A., I’m the one.“
— Seema Mehta, LA Times