LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Voters across the city will go to the polls today to choose from a slate of eight candidates vying for a spot in a likely May run-off for the mayor’s office.

Despite two cash-flush candidates–Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel–taking clear leads in the fundraising race by collecting more than $4 million apiece, the competition could prove unpredictable with an expected low turnout at the polls and all five major candidates fiercely campaigning to capture voters’ hearts and minds.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, businessman Kevin James and ex-tech executive Emanuel Pleitez round out the list of the more widely featured candidates; while Yehuda “YJ” Draiman, Norton Sandler and perennial candidate Addie M. Miller are also vying for the job. Greuel, Garcetti and Perry form a trifecta of sitting elected officials touting their experience in the public sector while facing two self-described political outsiders in James and Pleitez.

James is the sole Republican in the non-partisan race and would be the first openly gay mayor if elected.

Perry, who is Black, speaks Spanish and converted to Judaism in the 1980s. Garcetti is of both Mexican and Jewish descent.

While most candidates are eager to promise improved public safety and share their opinions on education and the environment, the city’s looming $200 million-plus budget deficit in the upcoming year is arguably the most pressing issue on tap for L.A.’s next chief executive. Along with ballooning pension
costs, the future mayor will be faced with a shortage of funds that could jeopardize critical services in years to come.

Greuel, a former councilwoman, boasts experience in both the public and private sphere, having spent five years as an executive at animation company DreamWorks.

During her campaign, Greuel was noted for declaring, with some dispute from opponents, that as city controller she dug up $160 million in “waste, fraud and abuse.” She was also fond of plugging her time as a deputy mayor in Tom Bradley’s administration.

Greuel has taken hits from opponents over her financial backing by unions such as the IBEW Local 18, which represents Department of Water and Power workers, and the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the police union.

A recent tally put union contributions to a super PAC supporting Greuel’s campaign at $2.5 million.

Meanwhile, a promise by Greuel to increase police ranks by 2,000 officers was slammed by her opponents as unreasonable, if not suspect, given the city’s budget and the types of groups funding her campaign.

Greuel, 51, tried to counter the perception she would bow to union pressure by promising not to raise salaries for DWP workers if the city still faces a deficit next year. Other major candidates have made the same promise.

Garcetti, a native of Silver Lake, ran a campaign that sporadically took advantage of his show biz connections, whether it was getting an endorsement from comedian Will Ferrell or accompanying electronic music D.J. Moby on the keyboard at a fundraiser.

Garcetti comes with an Ivy League resume that includes undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University and a year studying as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, and later the London School of Economics. He is also noted for having traveled to 80 countries, including on charity and relief missions.

Garcetti, 42, has had to counter claims that he helped contribute to the budget deficit by voting to raise salaries for public safety and other city employees.

Some observers have blamed an early lack of tough budget-related decisions on then-Council President Garcetti and his penchant for consensus-building, which is normally considered an attribute but can also be ammunition for opponents equating it to an unwillingness to stand-up to powerful entities like city employee unions.

During the campaign, Garcetti touted his role in the redevelopment of once-blighted areas of Hollywood, as well as his record on environmentally friendly policy-making–such as solar-energy initiatives–and his endorsement by the Sierra Club.

As the primary election neared, however, Pleitez filed ethics complaints alleging Garcetti held shares in billboard company Clear Channel and The Home Depot while voting on council items involving both.

Garcetti has denied any conflict of interest.

Greuel criticized the development of Hollywood, saying it brought traffic and air pollution to the area. A petition was also circulated urging Garcetti to withdraw shares he has in oil company Venoco.

Unlike Greuel, Garcetti swore off independent contributions throughout much of his campaign, and as a result trailed in spending power. A PAC supporting Garcetti was recently formed, not for today’s primary election, but for the May 21 general election.

Perry, who started at City Hall as a planning director for Councilman Michael Woo, is noted for her direct style and focused her platform on economic issues, promising to make tough choices on the budget and being touted as a fiscal conservative. She highlighted her 2011 spearheading of a ballot measure to mandate the city set aside a percentage of its money into a “rainy-day” reserve fund and a “budget stabilization fund.”

Perry, 58, has acquired a reputation for at times applying a heavy hand in pushing through development projects and for being too pro-business, but claims the projects she supported have created 90,000 jobs, $15 billion of investment and $40 million in new tax revenue. She also said she helped create the country’s first man-made wetlands and is responsible for introducing a program to hire local people for city projects.

Though considered an underdog because of her fundraising, Perry has unsettled some of her opponents enough that one of them, Greuel, took out a radio advertisement attacking Perry for filing bankruptcy twice and not paying her taxes. Perry actually only filed for bankruptcy once, jointly with her ex-husband, Douglas Galanter, and has since paid back the taxes after blaming the problem on issues at Galanter’s law firm.

James, a 50-year-old entertainment lawyer who has branded himself as a political outsider running on an anti-corruption platform, has said he will expose Los Angeles “from the inside” if elected, and root out the “culture of corruption” he says exists at City Hall.

The host of a conservative talk show, James has toned down his on-air personality for the campaign, though he retains a habit of taking colorful, often sharp, jabs at opponents, including releasing a video portraying Greuel and Garcetti burying dead bodies.

He has lambasted his opponents for making decisions he claims contributed to the budget deficit, and has promised to overhaul the business tax and the city’s pension system. He also opposes Proposition A, the half-cent sales tax hike measure that is also on the ballot.

Pleitez, a 30-year-old Stanford graduate, has been criticized for his relative lack of experience. His political background includes serving as a personal assistant to then-Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, and as a member of the vetting committee during the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first
term. Four years ago, while just coming off a job at Goldman Sachs, he made an unsuccessful bid for Hilda Solis’ congressional seat, which ultimately went to Judy Chu.

Pleitez, whose latest stint was as a tech executive at Internet people directory company Spokeo, has said it is not his professional qualifications, but his life experiences and childhood growing up in the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno that gives him insight into what voters really want from their government.

His platform includes lowering crime by encouraging community members to watch out for each other, getting Los Angeles to rival New York in becoming more environmentally sustainable, tackling the city’s financial crisis with a pension buyout plan, and a promise to invest more than $1 billion into
“underserved and impoverished communities–South Los Angeles, the Eastside, Pico-Union, Westlake and the East San Fernando Valley.”