For Councilman Dennis Zine, his 12 years on the Los Angeles City Council and his 40 years working for the city are both benefits and drawbacks in the race for city controller.
At the age of 65 with a healthy pension, Zine said he could easily spend his time riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle around the country or "just spending my time in the park feeding pigeons."
Instead, Zine finds himself in a tightly contested race to succeed Controller Wendy Greuel, who is running for mayor, and facing criticism for being a "City Hall insider" responsible for all L.A.'s problems, from potholes to pensions.
There are six candidates in the race for the job that has both been a starting point for higher office as well as a refuge for politicians ending their career. It pays $196,668 a year and is limited to two four-year terms. To avoid the May 21 runoff, a candidate needs to get a majority of the votes cast in the March 5 primary.
"I understand the complaints," said Zine, whose political party is registered as decline to state. "I have them, too. Other than getting their trash picked up or a response to a 911 call, the city needs to improve all its services."
Zine said he recently attended a meeting of neighborhood councils in South L.A., and residents complained they weren't getting their fair share of city services.
"That's what the complaint was with the Valley secession movement. It's what you hear in West L.A., and everywhere
"That's why I want to be controller. To look at how we can improve the delivery of services across the city."
Among his plans, if elected, are to conduct a citywide assessment on how services are provided, with an emphasis on the LAPD, looking at how officers are deployed and at policies to reduce the size and number of lawsuits.
During his years on the council, Zine said he worked to reject large lawsuit settlements and was a leader in having AEG reimburse the city for costs associated with the Michael Jackson funeral at Staples Center.
"He's taken on the big companies who owe the city money and gone after people who use handicapped placards that takes revenue away from the city," Zine campaign manager Rick Taylor said.
Zine also has generally avoided controversy on the council. Although he drew criticism two years ago for voting on several contracts involving a lobbyist, Veronica Becerra, whom he was dating.
He later recused himself from voting on future contracts and he is no longer dating Becerra.
But his challengers say Zine should have been a leader on issues of efficiency and financial accountability during his 12 years on the City Council, not waiting until he is seeking a higher office.
Candidate Ron Galperin, 49, an attorney and registered Democrat who has been involved in local civic affairs through neighborhood councils and as chairman of the City Council-created Committee on Revenue Enhancement, said he believes the problem has been leadership.
"I think we can and must do better," Galperin said. "I think while Los Angeles does have a lot of financial problems, I believe they are solvable with new leadership."
Galperin said his committee was able to identify numerous areas where the city is not capturing all the taxes to which it is entitled, along with efficiencies that could save more.
"This job is not just about doing audits or looking at waste, fraud and abuse," Galperin said. "It's about finding a way to achieve results and get it fixed."
Galperin also serves as chairman of the city's Quality and Productivity Commission, which looks at city operations.
"Sometimes it's the little things that can produce large savings," Galperin said. "For instance, some folks came up with the idea of reducing oil changes on vehicles by one time a year. Over the life we own these vehicles, it will save $3.2 million. That may not seem like a lot in a $7 billion budget, but it's a start."
Galperin has received the endorsement of former Controller Laura Chick, which he said is a recognition of his work to bring in more revenue to the city without raising taxes.
Candidate Cary Brazeman, 46, who works in public relations and marketing, became involved with local issues several years ago
"I became disheartened about the state of the city and the inattention to problems," Brazeman said. "I believe in what Los Angeles has the potential to be if we take care of our city. What disturbs me is the lack of willingness to acknowledge our problems. I can see what needs to be done done, and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and fix it."
Brazeman has gone after Zine for drawing both his salary and a pension of $102,000 a year.
"I just think it's wrong for him to be double dipping at a time when the city is having so many financial problems," said Brazeman, who has taken out newspaper advertisements calling Zine "Double Dipping Dennis" and is producing a Web commercial on it.
Zine, however, frequently touts his support for local charities, giving a minimum of $25,000 of his personal funds to groups in his district.
Brazeman also contends Zine remains too close to the LAPD to be an independent voice on changes needed.
"As controller, the No. 1 job you have is to shine a light on issues," Brazeman said. "That's what I did when I raised concerns about fire response times. That's where the controller can act as a business consultant to help the department run better."
His other concern is quality of life issues involving broken sidewalks and streets.
"What we have to do is provide an inventory and then find a way to pay for the repairs," Brazeman said. "People are not coming to the city because of our infrastructure and our unfriendly attitude toward business. We need to make a commitment to improving the city's processes."
Candidate Jeff Bornstein, 52, a business owner, has run against Zine twice before, spending some $40,000 of his own money in the race. He has not submitted campaign finance filings but said he plans to spend $25,000 for this election and is refusing donations.
"I want to be clean with no obligations to anyone," Bornstein said, adding he plans to let people know about his campaign through appearances and word of mouth.
If elected, Bornstein said he would try to change what the city does to generate more revenue.
"I think the city should become profitable," Bornstein said. "For instance, I've tried to get Tito Tacos to open in the Valley, but they refuse to. I don't see why the city can't open one to force competition.
"The way I look at it is there are many underserved areas of the city where we can step in to provide services," Bornstein said.
Similarly, he said, the city should join with the county and Los Angeles Unified School District in forming a conglomerate to purchase goods and supplies and also sell them to other jurisdictions.
Candidate Ankur Patel, 27, a student at California State University, Northridge, and union organizer, said he has been watching city affairs for several years and testifying before the City Council on a variety of issues, primarily dealing with transportation.
"After living and working in different countries, I came back to get involved with what is going on in my city," said Patel, who is registered decline to state. "I started to get involved with my local neighborhood council and then went to City Council meetings."
Patel said he sees the campaign as a way to identify problems in the city and develop solutions to them.
A sixth candidate, teacher and social worker Analilia Joya did not return calls or messages.
Patel is not soliciting any donations for the campaign, saying he plans to spend under $1,000, primarily for flyers about his candidacy.
Zine has raised more than $731,000, including $55,000 in personal funds, and he's accepted $267,000 in matching public funds. He has more than $735,000 in cash on hand, according to Ethics Commission records.
Galperin has raised nearly $313,000 including $107,000 personal funds, and he's accepted $162,000 in matching public funds. He has $156,000 in cash on hand.
Brazeman has raised $187,000 for the election, which includes $75,000 in personal funds. He has more than $41,000 in cash on hand.