Election worker Hank Jeffries sweeps up at his polling station in San Pedro;… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)
A police officer with no political experience and a seasoned state legislator appeared headed for a runoff in Tuesday's special election to replace former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, according to early returns.
Los Angeles Police Officer Joe Buscaino and state Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena) were battling for the top spot in the 15th Council District, which takes in San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor Gateway and Watts. They were trailed by a tight pack of several other contenders.
If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two will face a runoff Jan. 17.
Awaiting results with supporters at a Mexican restaurant in San Pedro, Buscaino was cautiously optimistic but said, "We're not taking anything for granted."
His campaign, he said, had been a "grass-roots effort" that brought together young and old. A San Pedro native whose parents emigrated from Italy, Buscaino received the majority of his campaign contributions from businesses and residents in the district.
But he also benefitted from more than $72,000 in independent spending by the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
The race kicked off just three months ago after Hahn was elected to Congress in July. With 11 candidates on the ballot and more waging write-in campaigns, it was a crowded — and quick — contest.
Nearly $2 million was spent by the candidates and outside groups. The campaigns of Buscaino and Furutani, a former L.A. school board member who was endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, led in spending with $264,380 and $313,927, respectively.
But four others also each spent more than $100,000: former harbor district Councilman Rudy Svorinich; Gordon Teuber, Hahn's former economic director; Jayme Wilson, who owns the popular Ports O' Call restaurant in San Pedro; and Pat McOsker, the former head of the city firefighters union.
McOsker, whose campaign spent $244,600, also benefited from $375,950 in independent spending on his behalf by several city employee unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Service Employees International Union.
Several other unions supported Furutani.
The question of whether union loyalties might get in the way of city business was raised on the campaign trail and in debates.
Buscaino has pledged "not to touch police and fire pensions." And McOsker said that "unions will influence my vote."
Los Angeles faces an estimated $200-million to $250-million deficit next year, and several candidates, including Furutani, said reforms
to the pension system for city employees may be necessary to help close the budget gap.
Furutani, who already represents about a third of the district in the state Legislature, was recently appointed chairman of an Assembly committee tasked with oversight of the state's public retirement system. If elected, he would be only the second Asian American to sit on the City Council.
As is typical in special elections, turnout appeared to be light Tuesday throughout the 15th District.
The city clerk issued 21,170 vote-by-mail ballots. By Tuesday afternoon, the clerk had received 7,776 of them.