L.A. mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti, left, speaks during the Zocalo/KCRW… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
A poll released Thursday shows City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti in a virtual dead heat in the campaign to be the next mayor of Los Angeles.
The poll, by the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A., shows Greuel with 46% of likely voters, Garcetti with 45% and 9% undecided less than two weeks before the May 21 election.
The finding is good news for Greuel, the city controller, who trailed in some earlier surveys, including one that showed she had struggled even to find substantial favor among women, expected to be one of her strongest constituencies as she pushes to be the first female mayor in the city's history.
That shortcoming has been reversed in a striking way, according to the Pat Brown Institute poll, which found Greuel leading Garcetti among female voters by 53% to 38%. Garcetti, a city councilman, leads solidly among men, the poll found, but by a less decisive margin — 51% to 40%.
Less than 21% of the city's 1.8 million registered voters cast ballots in the March 5 primary, and Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute, said expected low turnout in the runoff "makes the election volatile and hard to predict."
"Any significant shift in participation by key electoral groups could swing the outcome," Sonenshein said in a statement. "The composition of the groups turning out is just as important as the level of turnout itself."
Greuel said the poll shows that voters have responded to her ideas and TV ad messages from key backers like former President Clinton, Magic Johnson and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who "know that I deliver on issues that are important to people, like jobs and education."
Garcetti's campaign spokesman said the latest poll "seems like an outlier."
The telephone survey of 674 likely voters showed Greuel leading among white voters (53% to 42%) and with a substantial lead among African Americans (63% to 31%). It also showed Garcetti leading among Latinos (48% to 36%) and Asians.
The pollsters conducted their interviews from April 29 through Tuesday. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 points, with a higher margin of error possible for certain subgroups. Asian American voters were among those interviewed, but the pollsters said they were too small a subgroup of the sample to be examined in detail. Interviews and data collection were conducted by Interviewing Service of America under the overall direction of Susan Pinkus, the Pat Brown Institute's polling consultant.
The poll suggested that voters' views of the two contenders have been shaped by recent television ads. The negative cited most frequently about Greuel was that she is too close to special interests and unions. Voters' most frequent critique of Garcetti was that he cannot be trusted.
An anti-Greuel ad depicts her as being beholden to the union representing Department of Water and Power workers, who have contributed about $1.5 million to an independent campaign backing her candidacy. Anti-Garcetti ads depict him as a political operator who is "in it for himself."
Likely voters split when asked about specific strengths of the candidates. By 43% to 31%, they chose Greuel as the candidate who "cares more about people like me." They also chose her, by 42% to 32%, as the one who would do a better job with the public schools.
Garcetti had a slight edge on the question of who would keep the city safe from crime — 39% to Greuel's 34%
Less than three weeks ago, a USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll showed Garcetti with a commanding 10-point lead in the race to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is leaving office after the maximum two terms. The two surveys are not strictly comparable, not only because of the time gap between them but because of different sampling techniques and sample sizes.
Since then, Greuel has more frequently trumpeted the historic nature of her campaign and her backing from key female supporters like Boxer and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America.
If the race remains close through May 21, it's possible the outcome will not be known on election day. In the March primary, late-arriving mail-in ballots were not counted until after the election. They amounted to 22% of the vote and it took the city clerk's office three weeks to produce a final tabulation.
As the velocity of the campaign has increased, so has its nastiness. On Thursday, a lawyer for real estate developer Juri Ripinsky, who is featured in a Greuel attack ad, accused the candidate of making "defamatory statements" against his client. Greuel's ad shows Ripinsky at a Garcetti fundraiser and talks about the developer's fraud conviction. Lawyer Paul Sorrell says Greuel's ad misstates Ripinsky's role in the collapse of a bank and the punishment he received.
Greuel supporters, meanwhile, complained about a telephone "push poll" that they said is casting unfair aspersions on their candidate — including charges that she is ignoring her City Hall duties to campaign and is in the thrall of the city utility workers' union. Two Greuel supporters said in interviews that they had received the provocative calls.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called the push poll a "high-tech effort at voter suppression" and demanded that Garcetti condemn it. The Garcetti campaign said it knows nothing about the phone calls.
Times staff writers Catherine Saillant and David Zahniser contributed to this report.