Counting begins in pivotal vote for L.A.'s future

May 21, 2013|By Kate Mather and James Rainey

Polls closed and the ballot counting began Tuesday as Los Angeles voters ushered in a new era of leadership at a City Hall battered in recent years by budget cuts. 

Despite the high stakes of the elections, experts predicted low voter turnout. Only 21% of voters showed up to the polls for the March primary, and experts told The Times that number wasn't expected to rise much Tuesday.

The crowds were noticeably light at polling places Tuesday.

PHOTOS: L.A. voters head to the polls

Voters are picking a mayor, city controller and city attorney. Seats are also up for grabs on the City Council and L.A. Unified and L.A. Community College district boards.

At $33 million, the mayoral campaign was the most expensive in the city’s history, beginning with the opening round of voting in March. The race pitted City Councilman Eric Garcetti and against Controller Wendy Greuel.

After pushing past six other candidates in the primary, the two finalists, particularly Greuel, leaned on large, unregulated campaigns operated by outside groups. Spending by city employee unions on behalf of Greuel became a central issue in the campaign.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

The flood of money and advertising largely went toward tearing down the two contenders, alienating many Angelenos who hadn’t already been left cold. Tuesday’s final turnout remained unknown because roughly 20% of ballots — mail-in votes that arrived late or were hand-delivered to the polls — will not be counted until after election day. Analysts expected only about one-quarter of the city’s 1.8 million voters to participate.

Money not only failed to buy much love, it inspired a fair amount of voter enmity. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers gave $2 million that helped power television ads in which former President Clinton strongly backed Greuel; she had served in his Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the money also caused some voters to see her as too beholden to the union, which represents workers at the city’s Department of Water and Power. The utility is unpopular among some voters for its high salaries, averaging more than $100,000 per employee, and for bills that inevitably climb higher during hot summer months.

LIVE RESULTS: Los Angeles general election results

The two finalists campaigned for almost two years and began lining up supporters even before that. They emerged as favorites after three other potentially powerful contenders pulled out.p>Shopping mall developer Rick Caruso, a former Republican expected to occupy the right side of the political spectrum, said he didn’t have time for the race. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he was ready for a break after nearly four decades in public life. And former deputy mayor and businessman Austin Beutner said he did not want to take time away from his family.

That left Greuel and Garcetti to contend with three other serious but underfunded contenders — Republican radio host and attorney Kevin James, Councilwoman Jan Perry and technology executive Emanuel Pleitez.

James and Pleitez ran as opponents of the status quo at City Hall, but they didn’t have the financing or political resumes to break through with voters. Perry, despite a base of black voters in South Los Angeles, could not gain enough traction in other parts of the city. Garcetti bested Greuel by four percentage points in the March 5 vote, as both moved ahead to Tuesday's runoff.

The city controller had hoped to position herself as the tough fiscal watchdog. She claimed to have rooted out $160 million in “waste, fraud and abuse” in city government — money she said could help close the budget gap and restore services.

But the media questioned how much of that money really was recoverable. A Times story noted that one of the major purported savings was merely a Greuel promise to move $24.7 million from one account to another. Greuel did not offer a specific savings figure overall, saying only that what she had discovered was just the “tip of the iceberg.”

Polls  showed that a bigger
problem was Greuel’s link to the DWP union. In both debates and in his TV ads, Garcetti hammered home the notion that the controller would be unable to say “no” to union workers who already earned more than their counterparts in other utilities and other city departments.


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