LOS ANGELES, Calif. — After two years of hearing pitches from the two mayoral candidates left standing, Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel, Los Angeles voters will finally decide today who will succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
But despite a multitude of debates and public appearances, the record amount of money spent on mailers and television, radio and other ads to woo voters, election turnout could prove stubbornly low.
Only 22.7 percent of vote-by-mail ballots had been returned as of Monday, and many observers predicted voter turnout would remain low. Turnout in the March 5 primary election was about 21 percent.
Villaraigosa chastised the two candidates in his April “State of the City” address for lacking “comprehensive visions” and seemingly pursuing “one or two planks in a plan about an audit of this or a piecemeal change in that.”
While the two Democratic candidates have had to fend off claims they lack visionary plans and are indistinguishable on most policy issues, each has managed to zero in on a few pet achievements and qualifications.
Garcetti, 42, has flaunted his record on economic development, including his continuation of revitalization efforts in the Hollywood area and a $500 million W Hotel project he brokered.
The 51-year-old Greuel frequently boasts of her experience in both the public and private sphere, having spent five years as an executive at film company DreamWorks and the last four years as controller, digging up what she says was $160 million in “waste, fraud and abuse” in the city.
Both candidates have affirmed they would maintain Villaraigosa’s goal of keeping the number of police officers at 10,000. The two also have aired their views in recent months on big-ticket issues before the City Council.
Garcetti came out against a plan to expand the north runway at the Los Angeles International Airport and said he would not support the two-skyscraper Millennium project in Hollywood, which he calls “out of scale” with the rest of the neighborhood.
Greuel appeared with members of the firefighters’ union last month to denounce as unsafe the fire chief’s plan to add more ambulances while reducing fire truck companies crews by one firefighter. That plan has since been shelved.
Whoever becomes mayor will face ballooning pension costs and a looming battle between city leaders and employee groups over proposed labor concessions in Villaraigosa’s final budget. Still, neither candidate has come out with a comprehensive plan on tackling the city budget, though both have said they would pursue pension reform if elected.
Since the March 5 primary election, which whittled a field of eight candidates down to just two, Greuel and Garcetti have fought over endorsements that translate into voters or campaign dollars and manpower.
Garcetti won key endorsements from former mayoral candidates Councilwoman Jan Perry and radio host Kevin James, which could translate into voters in South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
Greuel secured backing from powerful groups such as the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents 600,000 union workers, some of whom have campaigned on her behalf. The controller also garnered high-profile endorsements from former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., former Laker legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan.
After downplaying the historical potential of her candidacy during the primary election, Greuel has since embraced the possibility that she could become Los Angeles’ first female mayor — highlighting it as she accepted the endorsement of EMILY’s List, a political action committee that supports pro-choice women candidates.
Two weeks before the election, Greuel injected $100,000 of her own money into her campaign coffers after funding for television advertising dried up.
Soon after, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the police officers’ union, stepped in to put in another $1.4 million into a pro-Greuel independent expenditure committee.
While Greuel has leaned heavily on financial support from labor groups, prompting opponents to question her ability to stand up to city employees during labor negotiations — particularly Department of Water and Power workers — she has retained the backing of major business groups, including the Los
Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, typically critical of city employee union contracts.
Television advertisements aired by independent groups and aimed at hurting the two candidates’ standing among Latino voters ignited a minor commotion ahead of today’s election.
The group Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti aired a television spot that implied Greuel, who was a Republican 13 years ago, supported Proposition 187, a 1994 voter-approved initiative that sought to restrict immigrants who entered the country illegally from accessing health care, public education and social services. Greuel said she never supported the measure.