With thousands of ballots remaining to be counted, Dennis Zine, left, was… (Los Angeles Times )
Attorney and businessman Ron Galperin and City Councilman Dennis Zine headed into the runoff for Los Angeles city controller in a virtual tie, with both on Wednesday claiming the advantage in the race ahead.
With thousands of ballots remaining to be counted, Galperin led Zine in unofficial election-night returns by 239 votes, 37.12% to 37.03%. Four other candidates were far back in the field, with the third-place finisher taking only 9.7% of the vote.
Noting that Zine had spent twice as much on his campaign, Galperin, 49, took his narrow first-place finish as a sign that "voters responded to what we had to say."
He said that Zine's spending just above $1 million to finish second "shows people are sick of the same politicians."
Galperin said that in the weeks leading up to the May 21 runoff his campaign will "highlight the contrast" between himself and Zine, 65, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer and police union leader and a 12-year councilman facing term limits.
Having served on two city panels to promote efficiency, Galperin said, he had developed "very specific ways to go about fixing" the finances of a city with stubborn budget problems.
"Voters in L.A. have a clear choice," Galperin said, between a politician who spent 12 years on the City Council, causing the problems we are now facing, versus someone who has the skills set and experience needed to clean this mess up."
Both candidates will try to sell themselves to voters as the best man to eke the most out of limited city dollars. The relatively obscure office, one of three posts elected citywide, is essentially the city's fiscal watchdog. It has the power to audit most city departments but cannot act on its own recommendations; that falls to the City Council and mayor.
Zine said he is confident he will prevail if he can "get our message out citywide about what we will do in the controller's office to make the city a better place."
He said the task of finding efficiencies becomes all the more urgent with the failure Tuesday of Measure A, which would have raised the sales tax a half-cent to help ease the city's budget problems and preserve police and fire services. (Zine opposed the measure.)
As chairman of the council's audits and government efficiency committee for the last two years, Zine said, he has the experience to be a good controller and his ability to work with the council and other elected officials will help him get more controller recommendations acted upon.
Galperin, a Democrat, has the backing of the county Democratic Party, seven Service Employees International Union locals, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and former City Controller Laura Chick.
Zine, a registered independent, is endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles Police Protective League and Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, among others.