San Pedro lawyer Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich claimed victory Tuesday in the race to become the next Los Angeles city attorney, a result that marked an apparent defeat not just for his rival, City Councilman Jack Weiss, but also for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had backed him.
In the race to replace Weiss in the council's 5th District, stretching from Cheviot Hills to Encino, former Assemblyman Paul Koretz held a lead over neighborhood council member David "Ty" Vahedi.
Of the two contests, the nastier fight was between Trutanich and Weiss, who are seeking the office of termed-out City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo. With vote-by-mail ballots and more than half the precincts reporting results, Trutanich, a former gang and environmental prosecutor who has been in private practice for the last two decades, was steadily edging ahead of Weiss, a former federal prosecutor.
In an interview after the early tallies were released, Trutanich said he was honored by the voters' support.
"It's been an uphill climb. I've come from obscurity, and I've taken on what has been touted as the most powerful political machine in the country," Trutanich said at a hotel in Universal City where supporters were gathered. "You've got to remember, [Weiss] was anointed. He was picking out the drapes two years ago, before I got in this race."
Weiss, who held his election night party at Canter's Deli in the Fairfax district, took the stage shortly after 11 p.m. and said: "I just want to tell you all how grateful I am, not only to all of you, who have been such incredible friends and such great supporters, but to the people of this city, who have placed their trust in me for the past eight years, and we'll know by the end of the evening if I've earned their trust for another four."
As Villaraigosa arrived to lend support, the mayor said he remained confident that the councilman would pull off a victory, but that he would be able to work with Trutanich if the San Pedro lawyer were to win.
"No matter what happens in this race, I believe in Jack Weiss. He's a good man," Villaraigosa said. "He has been without question the most stalwart supporter of a safer city, of growing our Police Department, of focusing on the issues of public safety and homeland security."
When the campaign began in earnest last year, Weiss was viewed as the front-runner, with a hefty war chest, the backing of Villaraigosa and the support of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Trutanich surprised many City Hall insiders by mounting a strong challenge to Weiss, securing endorsements from Sheriff Lee Baca and Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.
Out of a field of five candidates in the March 3 primary, Weiss and Trutanich came in first and second, drawing 36% and 27% respectively. Since then, they have steadily lobbed attacks at each other, with Weiss calling Trutanich a defender of polluters and gun owners, and Trutanich portraying Weiss as an absentee councilman with little legal experience.
Although the two candidates were evenly matched in fundraising, Trutanich's city attorney bid received a boost from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the police officers' union, which spent more than $745,000 on his behalf. Weiss, on the other hand, received nearly $750,000 in help from the Democratic Party and the labor federation.
In total, outside groups spent nearly $1.7 million on behalf of the two candidates. Those dollars paid for some of the most scathing advertisements from Weiss supporters, including an ad that faulted Trutanich for representing a boat captain who admitted to shooting at sea lions.
In the race for Weiss' council seat, Koretz was the consummate political insider while Vahedi aligned himself with residents upset at City Hall.
Vahedi tried to link Koretz, a former state lawmaker, to the budget crisis in Sacramento and warned that Koretz would embrace the status quo.
Koretz, in turn, tried to shred Vahedi's image as a reformer.
"I'm holding my breath. I was hoping to be a little further ahead, but if this holds up, I'll be perfectly happy to win by five or six points," Koretz said of the early returns.
Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.