Joe Buscaino, left, an LAPD officer, celebrates his early lead over state… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Harbor-area voters appeared to have handed LAPD Officer Joe Buscaino a victory Tuesday, choosing the political newcomer over a seasoned politician to represent them on the Los Angeles City Council.
According to early vote returns, Buscaino was leading state Assemblyman Warren Furutani by a wide margin for the 15th Council District seat, which has been without a representative since Janice Hahn was elected to Congress in July.
The district takes in San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway and Watts.
Buscaino, who surprised many outside the district when he finished first in November's special election to replace Hahn, was the favorite to win the runoff, thanks in part to his broad base of support in San Pedro, where he has lived most of his life — and where most of the district's votes are concentrated.
Buscaino, who promised voters he would bring a fresh perspective to City Hall, would serve out the remainder of Hahn's council term and then will be eligible to run for a full four-year term in 2013.
When the special election kicked off last summer, many pegged Furutani (D-Gardena) as the likely front-runner in the field of 11 candidates.
Furutani, who has been a state legislator since 2008 and who served on the Los Angeles school board and community college district board before that, quickly picked up endorsements from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.
But it was Buscaino who was the first candidate to hit the $50,000 mark in campaign fundraising, and the first to qualify for the November ballot. A first-generation Italian American, Buscaino focused much of his campaign on San Pedro, where he lives with his wife and their two children.
His grass-roots effort drew comparisons to Rudy Svorinich Jr.'s successful run for City Council in 1993. Svorinich, who served until 2001, was a 33-year-old San Pedro paint store owner and political novice when he beat 12-year incumbent Joan Milke Flores.
Buscaino and Furutani were the top two vote-
getters in November, with Buscaino capturing 29% of the vote, compared with Furutani's 23%. Svorinich, who also ran, hoping to capture a third term on the council, came in fifth.
While that election was occasionally ugly, with outside groups spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on attack ads aimed at the front-runners, the runoff election was relatively civil in comparison.
Still, Furutani, who lives in Harbor Gateway, criticized his opponent's lack of experience as a lawmaker.
Buscaino pitched his outsider status as an advantage, and said he'd like to focus on generating income for the city. He has pledged to cold-call businesses to recruit them to move to Los Angeles as a way to expand the tax base.
Buscaino also promised to protect public safety budgets. His campaign benefited from more than $200,000 in spending on his behalf by the police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League. That union and others, along with a contingent of business groups, spent at least $506,000 on Buscaino's campaign.
Outside groups working on Furutani's behalf, including the Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, spent at least $141,000.
Supporter Maggie Antonelos said she chose Buscaino because he will bring new ideas to City Hall.
Antonelos got to know Buscaino through her Neighborhood Watch program when Buscaino was a senior lead officer in the Los Angeles Police Department's Harbor division. "People are looking for new blood," she said.