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Garcetti, Greuel nab edge in LA's mayoral contest

LOS ANGELES -- Two City Hall veterans pulled away from their rivals Tuesday in the contest to replace outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, after a low-key campaign ignored by many residents in the financially troubled city.

The tight contest between city Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel, both Democrats, pointed to the likelihood of a May 21 runoff, since it appeared neither would be able to clear the majority vote needed to win outright.

After a tally of mail-in ballots and with about 30 percent of precinct reporting, Garcetti was holding a slim lead, at 35 percent, to 29 percent for Greuel, a margin of less than 10,000 votes.

Turnout was scant. Campaign strategists predicted that when Election Day voters are tallied, no more than a quarter of the city's 1.8 million voters will have cast ballots.

The five leading candidates in the nonpartisan contest made last-minute appeals during stops around the city, while unionized workers and other campaign volunteers tried to get voters to shake off indifference and go to the polls.

The sluggish turnout could help Democratic Councilwoman Jan Perry, 57, or former prosecutor Kevin James, 49, a Republican, slip into the two-person runoff. Many votes remained to be counted but they each had a lot of ground to make up: Perry lagged with about 18 percent, to just over 13 percent for James.

Former technology executive Emanuel Pleitez, 30, is a longshot.

The next mayor inherits a lot of problems. City Hall is nearly broke, the airport is an embarrassment, freeways remain clogged and potholes, cracked sidewalks and untended trees infest many neighborhoods.

Angelenos, however, are known to give local politics a collective shrug. Turnout failed to reach 30 percent in Villaraigosa's hotly contested primary in 2005, when he was trying to become the first Hispanic mayor in more than a century.

Villaraigosa was re-elected in 2009 with a meager 152,000 votes, in a city of nearly 4 million people. He leaves after two bumpy terms.

Los Angeles County Democratic Chair Eric Bauman attributed the light turnout to voter fatigue after the 2012 presidential race, along with a campaign that failed to produce a star candidate.

Still, there is the possibility of another first for LA. The city could elect its first woman mayor (Greuel or Perry), the first openly gay one (James), or its first Jewish one (Perry or Garcetti).

The five leading candidates have dueled mostly over pocketbook issues — a looming deficit, 10.2 percent unemployment and how to stop rising worker pension and health care costs from snatching money from street repairs and other services.

The Los Angeles mayor presides over a budget that exceeds US$7 billion, but it is a comparatively weak office hemmed in by a powerful City Council. Unlike other big cities such as New York, the Los Angeles mayor cannot directly appoint the head of schools or police.

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