Los Angeles voters head to the polls on Tuesday in a primary election to choose a new mayor, with the top candidates trumpeting the need to reduce business taxes to grow the economy.
The non-partisan primary election in the mostly liberal southern California city is expected to end with the top two contenders advancing to a May runoff vote, because no candidate is likely to secure a majority of the electorate.
Among the candidates are a veteran Democratic official who headed the City Council for years, another Democrat tasked with uncovering financial waste, a conservative former talk-show host and a longtime councilwoman.
The eventual winner will replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is one of the nation’s most high-profile Latino politicians and chaired the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He is barred from running again after two terms in office.
Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti have led in campaign fundraising and in the polls.
Both have called for a reduction in business taxes to promote economic growth and increase city revenues, even as the nation’s second-largest metropolis scrounges for new revenue to plug a budget hole set to top $1 billion over the next four years. Talk-show host Kevin James has taken a similar position.
All three top contenders have said they want to overhaul the city’s gross receipts tax on businesses. The tax varies by type of commerce, with Internet-based companies charged $1 per $1,000 in revenue, and professional service firms docked $5 per $1,000.
This follows years of complaints by business groups that Los Angeles imposes too many burdens on commerce. The top contenders are also opposing a half-cent sales tax increase that is on the March 5 ballot and is backed by Villaraigosa.
Greuel in her current role as controller is tasked with uncovering waste and fraud, while in her former position on the council she was known as the “Pothole Queen” for her dedication to fixing the streets in her suburban district.
Garcetti is a city councilman who was president of the council from 2006 to 2011 and is known for championing the environment and bringing together factions. He is the son of former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti.
A USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll conducted between Feb. 24 and Feb. 27 showed Garcetti leading with 27 percent of likely voters, compared to 25 percent for Greuel.
The difference between the two top contenders in the survey of 500 respondents was within the survey’s margin of error. And in a sign of the potential for the election to swing unexpectedly, 46 percent of voters who said they had decided on a candidate said they could still change their mind.
James had 15 percent support in the USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll and City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents a sliver of the city’s downtown and areas to the south, stood at 14 percent. She was first elected to the council in 2001.
Garcetti and Greuel have led in fundraising by each pulling in over $4 million in contributions, according to campaign records from the city. But Greuel, a former executive at DreamWorks, has received an added boost in over $2 million spent independently on her behalf, records show.
Most of that comes from a group called Working Californians to Elect Wendy Greuel that is backed, in large part, by city employee unions. Outside groups and individuals have set a record by spending over $4.8 million for or against the mayoral candidates and the contenders for other city offices.