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No Time to Rest, L.A.’s May Election Underway

After surviving Tuesday’s mayoral primary election, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel wasted no time Wednesday getting back on the campaign trail, with Garcetti thanking and rallying supporters in Atwater Village and Greuel picking up a key union endorsement.

As expected, Garcetti and Greuel – who led all their opponents in fundraising – topped the eight-candidate field in Tuesday’s primary to advance to a May 21 runoff election in their race to replace Antonio Villaraigosa.

Councilmember Eric Garcetti, center, and City Controller Wendy Greuel will face off in the Runoff Election held in May. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Councilwoman Jan Perry was a distant third in the race, followed by businessman Kevin James.

Garcetti, the top vote-getter in the primary, held a rally at the Van de Kamp Job Training Center in Atwater Village, thanking his supporters and urging them to continue their push to the runoff. He also took a shot at Greuel, insinuating she would be a mayor beholden to her major campaign backers – unions.

“This city has a choice to make,” he said. “It’s a choice between a mayor’s office that’s bought and paid for by power brokers and the DWP union, or a mayor’s office that’s truly of the people, by the people and for the people of Los Angeles.”

Greuel received the endorsement Wednesday of the Service Employees International Union Local 721, one of the city’s most influential employee labor groups. Union officials, who did not endorse a mayoral candidate prior to Tuesday’s primary, said Greuel has always “kept her door open” and understands how to partner with city employees to tackle the city’s budget problems.

“She knows that members of SEIU 721 and the Coalition of LA City Unions kept this city running during the last budget crisis by agreeing to a savings package, which included real pension reform that saved the city $850 million,” SEIU 721 President Bob Schoonover said.

He added that Greuel was receptive to their idea of staffing police department desk jobs with civilians in order to “get more cops on the streets.”

Another SEIU local, the United Long Term Care Workers, also threw its backing behind Greuel.

Greuel took some heat in the primary campaign for her close ties with – and financial backing from – 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.

A campaign 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.

Greuel, who would become the city’s first female mayor if elected, also took a shot at Garcetti Wednesday after touring an eco-friendly fountain-design company.

“My opponent would suggest there isn’t any waste in Los Angeles, and there’s nothing we can do to get back some money as we go forward that could go for the kind of services for police and fire and all the other services that we provide to the residents of Los Angeles,” she said. “I know there is.”

At his election-night party in Hollywood, Garcetti, 42, rallied his supporters by echoing a theme of his campaign – job creation and development in his 13th District. He also touted his “record of real pension reform, of responsible budget cutting, of getting ourselves through tough times so that we could protect core services that people depend on in our neighborhoods.”

“It’s why this district is ranked number one by the Chamber of Commerce in job growth in the midst of a recession,” he said. 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.

Garcetti 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.

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.

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 for the May 21 general election.

L.A. City Council Races

About 90,000 ballots from Tuesday’s primary election remained uncounted late Wednesday, casting a hint of uncertainty over City Council races in which two candidates narrowly earned enough votes to win seats outright, while another barely missed the cut and appeared bound for a runoff.

Among the races that could hinge on uncounted ballots is the 1st District race to replace termed-out Councilman Ed Reyes. Former Assemblyman Gil Cedillo narrowly fell below the 50 percent mark, with unofficial final tallies giving him 49.4 percent — about 83 votes shy of winning the seat outright. If that percentage holds, Cedillo will be forced to the May 21 runoff against Jose Gardea, Reyes’ longtime chief of staff, in the battle to represent the district, which includes northeast Los Angeles, Chinatown and Pico-Union.

City clerk officials, who could not provide a district-by-district breakdown of the remaining ballots, have until March 26 to complete the count, according to spokeswoman Kimberly Briggs.

The remaining ballots include about 24,000 late vote-by-mail ballots, 27,000 vote-by-mail ballots that were turned in at polling places, 24,000 provisional ballots and more than 14,000 questioned ballots.