LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles voters gave an early edge Tuesday to two favorites in the contest to replace outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, after a low-key campaign ignored by many residents in the financially troubled city.
A tally of 111,000 mail-in ballots and a sprinkle of returns from polling places released by the city clerk showed Democratic veterans Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel opening ground over other rivals, each with about 31 percent of the vote.
Turnout was light. 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.
"I need you to vote, and then go encourage your friends and family to vote, too," Greuel, the city controller, told supporters in an email. She hopes to become the city's first woman mayor.
The likely outcome in the heavily Democratic city could send Garcetti, 42, a city councilman, and Greuel, 51, to a May 21 runoff, since it's unlikely any candidate will clear the majority needed to win outright Tuesday.
The sluggish turnout could help Democratic Councilwoman Jan Perry, 57, or former prosecutor Kevin James, 49, a Republican, 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 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.
"I honestly think voters are worn out," Bauman said. "There isn't anything that is driving up turnout."
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 same career politicians that caused our city's problems now promise they can solve them," said James, who's positioned himself as an outsider who will 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.
Voters also were picking a city attorney, city controller and about half the 15 members of the City Council, and deciding whether to increase the city's sales tax a half-cent to 9.5 percent.