L.A. mayor's race comes down to the wire
Voters continued to trickle to the polls across Los Angeles on Tuesday evening to select a new mayor and other officials.
The city's financial crisis has been a central issue in the various campaigns, including Proposition A, a proposed tax increase to help deal with the money crunch.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday disputed the idea that City Hall is "a mess," saying campaign ads that portray the city as being near bankruptcy are not accurate.
Standing inside his polling place on the day Angelenos pick a new mayor, Villaraigosa touted the city's success at reducing the size of its budget shortfall in the middle of a huge economic downturn. "The idea that the city's a mess just doesn't conform with reality," Villaraigosa said moments after casting his ballot in favor of Proposition A, the half-cent sales tax increase.
Some residents, however, seemed more concerned.
“The city budget is pretty much depleted, and the city’s services are deplorable,” Joe Bui of Woodland Hills said as he emerged from a polling place at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. “They can’t teach the kids, and they can’t maintain the roads, and they’re backed up with trimming trees out here.”
Some saw the proposed half-cent tax increase as a chance to improve those services.
“With cuts in federal spending, we’re going to need the extra revenue in Los Angeles if we’re going to keep the same services,” said retired engineer Bill Owen of Canoga Park.
His wife, Lyn, agreed. “We need to pay for the services we want but we have to use the money wisely,” she said.
Others thought the measure -- which was promoted as a way to shield the Police Department and other public safety agencies from employee cuts -- would do little but put more strain on residents. Backed by key business leaders, Proposition A would push the city’s sales tax rate to 9.5%, among the highest in the state.
“I don’t think that’s going to solve the problem,” said Leslie Downey of Woodland Hills. “The economy is so poor, people can’t afford to pay more for things they buy.”
Downey, who works as a bookkeeper, said, however, that she was concerned about eroding city services.
“We’re small-business owners, and what we make goes back to the city,” she said. “But we’re not getting much in return.”
At the Brentwood home of former Mayor Richard Riordan, voters trickled into the garage through the morning and early afternoon to cast their ballots.
One person stood in line when the polls opened at 7 a.m. That was in contrast to 20 waiting at the door for the start of last November’s presidential election. Although turnout seemed sparse by lunchtime, volunteers noted that about 400 of the precinct’s 1,157 registered voters had mailed in ballots.
At midday, Mark Finfer, an architect who also works in real estate, voted against Proposition A, the half-cent sales tax.
“They don’t know what they’re doing,” he said of local government. “The more money they have, the more they’ll waste.”
Although he said he feels personally well off, the city’s dire financial condition makes him fret “for my kids and grandkids.” He said his grandchildren had graduated from college but could not find jobs.
His solution for the relatively stagnant job picture in Los Angeles, he said, would be for the city “to just get out of the way and give us a fair playing field.” In his view, that would entail lowering taxes, reducing regulation and making it easier for small businesses to operate.
Although Tuesday’s election will result in one of Los Angeles’ most extensive leadership changes -- with residents selecting a mayor, city attorney, city controller, and eight City Council members -- attendance at polling places appeared sluggish. Poll workers said things had been “painfully slow,” and some attributed it to diminished excitement after November’s presidential election.
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said the mayoral race had failed to draw people’s attention because candidates had similar stances on the issues.
“As a result you end up with a campaign that’s more about their biographies than their policy positions,” Schnur said. “Although these candidates are a very smart and accomplished group, none of them has the type of outsized personality of an Antonio Villaraigosa or Richard Riordan.”
About one-fifth of the 663,065 vote-by-mail ballots issued by the city clerk had been returned by Monday.
Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti said he was optimistic about participation and had been telling voters that the election was important to their daily life.
“These are the roads we drive on, the economy you’re a part of,” he said. “… What people give, they get. So if you don’t show up -- you can’t expect a lot.”
-- Bob Pool, Maeve Reston, Martha Groves, David Zahniser and Corina Knoll