Light turnout caps low-profile race for LA mayor

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles voters appeared Tuesday to mostly ignore the contest to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, after a low-profile campaign in which no issue or candidate commanded wide attention.

Turnout at polling places was sparse. Only about 22 percent of 660,000 mail-in ballots had been returned by Tuesday morning, and campaign strategists doubted that more than one-in-four of the city’s 1.8 million voters would 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.

“I need you to vote, and then go encourage your friends and family to vote, too,” city Controller Wendy Greuel, who could become the city’s first woman mayor, pleaded with supporters in an email.

The likely outcome in the heavily Democratic city could send two City Hall regulars, Democrats Eric Garcetti, 42, and Greuel, 51, to a May 21 runoff, since it’s unlikely any candidate will clear the majority needed to win outright on Tuesday.

The sluggish turnout could produce surprises, possibly opening the way for Democratic Councilwoman Jan Perry, 57, or former prosecutor Kevin James, 49, a Republican, to slip into the two-person runoff.

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

There are plenty of problems to solve in Los Angeles. City Hall is nearly broke, the airport is an embarrassment, freeways are 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 office midyear, 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.

“I honestly think voters are worn out,” Bauman said. “There isn’t anything that is driving up turnout.”

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 over mostly 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 same career politicians that caused our city’s problems now promise they can solve them,” says James, who’s positioned himself as an outsider eager to upend the status quo at City Hall.

The Los Angeles mayor presides over a budget that exceeds $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.

The low turnout also was notable because the election will produce broad leadership changes at City Hall. Voters were also picking a city attorney, city controller and about half the 15 members of the City Council.

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