City Councilman Dennis Zine holds a significant lead among likely voters in his race against Ron Galperin for the city controller's seat in the May 21 runoff election, a USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll shows.
Zine, a three-term councilman, is the choice of 34% of respondents, according to the bipartisan survey of 500 likely voters conducted over three days last week. That compares with 22% who said they would probably vote for Galperin, a city commissioner and attorney.
Poll director Dan Schnur, of USC, said the findings indicate that Zine has the advantage at this point in what has largely been a low-profile campaign. But with nearly 44% of voters still undecided, Galperin has a chance to move more in his direction over the next four weeks, he said.
"With the high number of undecided voters and the relatively low level of information available at this point, the race certainly isn't over," Schnur said. "If Galperin can raise the money to get his message heard, he's still in a position to be very competitive."
The telephone survey was conducted April 15-17 by M4 Strategies, a Republican pollster, and Benenson Strategy Group, a Democratic firm. The margin of error is 4.4 percentage points but smaller for subgroups.
Galperin was the top vote-getter in the March primary, edging past second-place finisher Zine by about 4,000 votes. But with the field of six candidates narrowed to two, Zine has moved past Galperin to take the lead, at least among voters who already have a candidate preference.
Zine and Galperin have participated in debates and public events as they compete for the job of serving as Los Angeles' chief auditor and accountant, an independent post elected citywide. But neither has yet sent out campaign mail or bought TV advertising that would introduce him to a wider pool of voters.
The controller's race has also been somewhat overshadowed by the mayoral race between City Councilman Eric Garcetti and current City Controller Wendy Greuel.
Zine, 65, is a 12-year councilman and a retired Los Angeles police sergeant. During his law enforcement career, he was director of the police union and frequently in the news. Galperin, 49, by contrast, is a lawyer who has worked largely out of the limelight on city commissions charged with finding ways to operate City Hall more efficiently.
On the ballot, Zine is identified as a "Los Angeles City Councilman"; Galperin is designated an "Efficiency Commissioner/Businessman." How a candidate is identified can make a difference to some voters.
Glen Lavin, 52, a retired city worker who took part in the poll, said he would probably vote for Zine because he knows him from his years on the council. Lavin, who lives in Winnetka in the northwest San Fernando Valley, said he knew little about Galperin.
"Efficiency commissioner? What does that mean?" he said. "He's not a career politician, and that can be a good thing. But to have no knowledge of city government and then have such a high-level position makes me unsure of him."
Galperin needs to win over voters such as Lavin, Schnur said. The USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/Los Angeles Times City Election Poll shows Zine with a significant lead in the vote-rich San Fernando Valley. Forty-one percent of respondents there said they were leaning toward Zine, compared with 26% for Galperin.
Both candidates also have an opportunity with the 59% of African American voters who say they haven't decided whom to back. That's the highest ethnic group of undecideds, followed by 46% of Latinos and 39% of whites, the poll shows.
In South Los Angeles, the region with the greatest concentration of black voters, the number of those who are undecided is even higher, at 61%. Poll respondent Walter Lawson, 71, of South Los Angeles, is one of those who hasn't yet settled on who will get his vote.
Lawson said he isn't familiar with either candidate and is waiting for both to tell him what they stand for.
"If he's going to stand up for the city and stand up to the special interests, I'll vote for him," said Lawson, a retired county maintenance worker.
"I just don't know who that it is yet."