Los Angeles County voters took the first step toward a landmark changing of the guard on the powerful Board of Supervisors, giving a lopsided lead to a favored candidate in one race and winnowing the field in what is expected to be a costly and hard-fought runoff battle for a second open seat on the five-member panel.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was far ahead of two opponents in a contest to represent a supervisorial district, now held by six-term Supervisor Gloria Molina, that stretches from downtown Los Angeles to the far eastern border of the county.
In a second supervisorial race that includes the Westside and much of the San Fernando Valley, former state lawmaker and child star Sheila Kuehl appeared to be headed toward a two-way November runoff with former Santa Monica councilman and Kennedy family scion Bobby Shriver. Races for county sheriff and assessor also looked to be headed for runoffs, after incumbents in those offices chose not to seek reelection amid corruption scandals.
At a union hall in El Monte, Molina praised Solis in front of supporters, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "Having Hilda, who will follow me on the county Board of Supervisors, is such a proud, proud moment. We know Hilda is going to be the champion we want her to be."
In Santa Monica, the mood was festive at Kuehl and Shriver's election-night parties.
"I always considered myself the frontrunner in the race because I had represented so much of the district before," Kuehl said. "When people have voted for you before, they feel more comfortable voting for you again."
Shriver told supporters that "I'm going to continue to tell the story of my experience and my record."
In his first Santa Monica council election, he said, people didn't know much about him personally but voted for him once they did.
"This is a much bigger situation, with many more voters, so it takes a little longer to get the story out. But that's what we'll do in the fall."
In a Long Beach runoff election, early returns showed no clear winner in the race between real estate investor and former NFL player Damon Dunn and Councilman Robert Garcia to determine who would be the next leader of the county's second most populous city.
After decades of little turnover on the L.A. County governing board, Tuesday's election marked the beginning of a new era of changing leadership at the nation's largest local government. Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky are being pushed out this year by term limits. Two of their veteran colleagues, Don Knabe and Michael D. Antonovich, will retire in 2016, meaning that in just two years the county — with 10 million residents and a $26-billion budget — with have an almost entirely new lineup of elected leaders.
The incoming supervisors will face difficult policy choices and major financial challenges as they pursue improvements in the troubled child welfare system, guide an overhaul of county jail facilities and implement the federal Affordable Care Act's health system overhaul in the county's network of hospitals and clinics that serves hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.
Despite the extraordinary election, the campaign failed to inspire local voters. Turnout appeared to be lagging behind the typically low rates of previous such county primary elections, which in 2010 and 2012 hovered slightly above 20%. At some polling stations, short staffing or technical glitches resulted in voters either turned away or forced to wait hours for ballot stations to be set up.
Eight candidates vied for Yaroslavsky's seat, with Shriver, Kuehl and West Hollywood Councilman John Duran quickly emerging as the top contenders. The three raised a combined $3.5 million in campaign cash, including nearly $1 million that Shriver contributed to his own campaign.
Shriver was the only candidate who took his message to television. The others relied on mailers and busy schedules of public events.
Shriver portrayed himself as a "progressive problem solver," while Kuehl touted her legislative experience and detailed policy knowledge. Duran courted Republican voters, portraying himself as the most centrist and business-friendly candidate.
The strategy worked with Tracy Lucast, 66, a registered Republican from Santa Monica, who said she voted for Duran "strictly as a non-Shriver vote."
"It's like the Kingdom of Camelot is continuing ad nauseam," she said, referring to Shriver's Kennedy family lineage.
But Shriver and Kuehl's wider name-recognition and fundraising advantages appeared to have paid off, with early results showing them well ahead of Duran.
Duran said he thought he had been "severely disadvantaged on the money." But he added, "I think I come out a winner even if I don't break through." The campaign introduced him to a large bloc of voters, he said. "There may be another office for me sometime in the future."
In the county assessor's race, 12 candidates vied to replace John Noguez, a one-term assessor who is fighting public corruption charges. Jeffrey Prang, a West Hollywood councilman and special assistant in the assessor's office, was leading in early results, followed by prosecutor John Morris.
Vartan Gharpetian had a narrow lead in a special council election in Glendale.
Local propositions were also on the ballots in several cities, including one in Whittier that would convert election of four out of five City Council seats to by-district rather than at-large in response to a voting rights lawsuit. As of Tuesday night, the vote on the proposal was too close to call.
Times staff writers Catherine Saillant, Emily Reyes-Alpert, Soumya Karlamangla, Hailey Branson-Potts, Garrett Therolf and Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times