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Who will be next L.A. mayor? It's a done deal, except for the name (+video)

The two City Council veterans left standing after the Tuesday primary for Los Angeles mayor have a lot in common: political insiders, liberal Democrats, ties to labor, and so on. The runoff is May 21.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / March 6, 2013

This combo image shows Los Angeles mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, left, and Wendy Greuel. The outcome after the Tuesday primary in the heavily Democratic city sends the two City Hall veterans to a May 21 runoff.

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Los Angeles

The political profile of the next mayor of Los Angeles was pretty much settled Tuesday in the primary election. The only outstanding issue is precisely who the new mayor will be.

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Los Angeles mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti react to initial election victories Tuesday night.

Two City Council veterans, Eric Garcetti, age 42, the council president, and Wendy Greuel, 51, the city controller, emerged as the top two of five main and three lesser-known candidates in the primary. They will battle for 11 weeks until a May 21 runoff.

Both are political insiders. Both are liberal Democrats. And both have ties to organized labor but have also courted business by supporting elimination of a tax on gross receipts.

“As William F. Buckley Jr. once said of candidates in a race for mayor of New York, their differences are biological, not political,” says Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

Noting that the next mayor will have little or no power over many of the key issues facing the city – such as education and freeway construction – Professor Pitney says the city’s economic future is bleak. “The next mayor will have to focus on cutbacks. Neither candidate has a magic wand that will fill the city’s treasury,” he says. The passage of a half-cent sales tax increase will help – bringing in $200 million a year, but it pushes the rate to 9.5 percent, one of the highest in the state.

The list of “boths” goes on: Both candidates would become mayor in a “weak mayor” system  – meaning he or she has no formal authority outside of the council, cannot remove or approve officials, and lacks veto power over council votes. As such, the mayor's power is based largely on personal persuasion in order to accomplish desired goals.

“Quite frankly, I just don’t see any difference,” says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe,  a senior fellow at the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California. She says Ms. Greuel has more support from the big unions – the Service Employees International Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – which is a plus for funding but a minus in breaking the strong perception that she can’t stand up to them to do what is needed for pension reform, a major issue for the city’s finances.

“One of the biggest problems for the next mayor here is how to reform pensions,” says Ms. Jeffe. “Between now and May, Greuel will have to get specific on how she intends to do that.”

Jeffe adds that Greuel would make history as the city’s first woman mayor but notes that black and Latino women here have already lodged strong protests over Greuel’s campaign attacks against Jan Perry, a black councilwoman who ran in the primary. In debates and four-color fliers emblazoned with large red type (“A History of Financial Mismanagement”), Greuel spotlighted Ms. Perry as having gone bankrupt twice despite her $178,789 salary.

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