After finishing first and second in Tuesday’s nonpartisan mayoral primary, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel will face each other in a May 21 runoff to take over a city that faces a $216 million budget gap and rising pension costs that could cripple municipal finances.
Judging by the dismal turnout in the primary, with only 18 percent of registered voters going to the polls, Ms. Greuel and Mr. Garcetti may face an uphill battle to engage the roughly four million residents in the nation’s second-largest city.
Mr. Garcetti received 33 percent of the vote, with much of his support centered in his Hollywood City Council district, while Ms. Greuel received 29 percent and did particularly well in the San Fernando Valley, which she used to represent on the Council.
Much of the primary campaign focused on the candidates’ personal stories. Ms. Greuel, a former city councilwoman, has emphasized that she would be the first woman elected mayor, while Mr. Garcetti, the son of former District Attorney Gil Garcetti, has played up his family’s Mexican heritage. If elected, he would also become the first Jewish mayor of the city.
The two are now likely to turn their attention to courting supporters of Kevin James, a Republican who came in third in Tuesday’s elections, and Jan Perry, an African-American city councilwoman who received 15.9 percent of the vote, just behind Mr. James.
“There weren’t candidates running who could draw from traditional bases, and in L.A. that really matters,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. “They’re going to need to reach out to African-Americans and white liberals on the West Side, which are two big groups up for grabs. They are relatively unknown players on the big stage and really need to build coalitions to win.”
Both Democrats, Mr. Garcetti, 42, and Ms. Greuel, 51, agree on a wide range of issues and could struggle to differentiate themselves in a general election. Both have tried to position themselves as the best person to bring together business and labor interests in negotiating contracts and budget deals, as well as improve the city’s economy.
After voters rejected a ballot measure to increase the city’s sales tax to 9.5 percent, city officials said Wednesday that they were considering new ways to further cut the city budget, which could include reducing the size of the police department or paring back street repairs.
The role of public employee unions is likely to be a key issue in the runoff.
Ms. Greuel came under repeated attack from opponents for the support she has received from the union that represents workers at the Department of Water and Power, which spent more than $2 million to help her in the primary. On Wednesday, she was endorsed by the powerful local Service Employees International Union, which represents tens of thousands of city and county workers and could provide critical votes in the runoff. Mr. Garcetti has the backing of the teachers’ union, the Teamsters and other local unions.
“We’re going to be talking about who is going to create a better business environment and how to put this city back to work,” said Bill Carrick, a strategist for the Garcetti campaign, who said Ms. Greuel has not proved she can cut costs. “She’s hidden behind the old cliché of getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse, but it is almost meaningless how much money she has found in her role as the controller.”
In her speech to supporters Tuesday night, Ms. Greuel said Mr. Garcetti could not be trusted, which is why she also had support from business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce.
“What they know is I’m going to be the person who stands up and says exactly what I mean,” she said in an interview with KPCC radio Wednesday. “I’ll be able to have those tough conversations and ultimately solve the problems that face Los Angeles.”
Two incumbents for the Los Angeles school board were re-elected after competitive races that drew millions of dollars from around the country, including $1 million from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, to support candidates backed by Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa.
The current board president, Monica Garcia, received 54 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. And Steve Zimmer, an alumnus of Teach for America who was backed by the teachers’ union, beat a challenger who had the support of the mayor’s coalition.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 6, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of one of the candidates who will face a May runoff in the Los Angeles mayor’s race. She is Wendy Greuel, not Gruel.
By JENNIFER MEDINA