Candidate for Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti

The Los Angeles Times endorses Eric Garcetti for mayor. (Los Angeles Times / February 18, 2013)

Voting may be the ultimate act of optimism. If it can't help, why bother? People who go to the polls are investing in the future of their city, asserting by their action that there is a choice to be made and that the choice is consequential.

But voting counts regardless of who prevails. The victors cannot help but take careful note of just who put them in office, and who can keep them there if they perform well — or throw them out if they don't. A high turnout sends the message that voters are on duty and paying attention, regardless of how much money was donated by interest groups looking for favors.

A low turnout may well signal inattention or despair, and that's hardly a signal of civic good health. When too few voters show up at the polls, it gives disproportionate power to those people — too often affiliated with one special interest or another — who do bother to turn out.

Turnout in Los Angeles city and school elections is often disappointing, so the city needs the optimism provided by voters who do go to the polls because they hope — they know — that their choices make a difference. In the same spirit, The Times resists the temptation to coast through elections without making choices. In the March 5 city and school primaries, this page has endorsed in each race. If none of the choices in a particular race is a good one, we have been straightforward about that. But in the spirit of optimism, and following the example set by voters, we choose the best of what may be less than ideal options — and we prepare ourselves, as citizens do, to hold the victors to account once they are in office.

Candidates for mayor, city attorney, controller, City Council, L.A. Unified Board of Education and Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees will win office outright if they receive more than 50% of the vote Tuesday. For each race in which there is no such winner, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates on May 21. Winners take office July 1.

The digital version of this endorsement recap includes links to fuller endorsements.

Mayor: Eric Garcetti. This candidate's strengths and weaknesses are the same: Garcetti navigates among opposing viewpoints to broker consensus. That can make him appear weak or lacking in conviction. But he has a solid record of accomplishment as a councilman and as City Council president, and he seems to grasp the city's potential — and can articulate it and pursue it — in a way that the other candidates cannot. He is a work in progress, with the emphasis on progress, a trait missing elsewhere in the field. Wendy Greuel, by contrast, touts achievements that are at best hazy — such as her claim to have uncovered (but not recovered) $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse — and plans that are equally amorphous for correcting the city's budget problems.

City Attorney: Mike Feuer. The city attorney's office desperately needs some stability, some creativity and some wisdom. Feuer can provide them. Voters should see their task as not merely hiring a criminal prosecutor or a civil trial lawyer but electing a person capable of steering the city through legal minefields to secure the best quality of life for residents and the best policy making for the future. Feuer has repeatedly shown, as a state lawmaker and before that as a Los Angeles councilman, that he can deliver.

Controller: Ron Galperin. Without care and attention from voters, the office of controller could easily become Los Angeles' lieutenant governor — an elected position without power, productivity or purpose. The city needs a part-wonk, part-gadfly, part-brainstormer who can rethink how the city is managed while patching financial leaks. Galperin has the wonk part nailed, and he comes closer than the other candidates to filling the other roles.

City Council District 1: Jose Gardea. Voters in this northeast Los Angeles district can choose between the brainy, planning-oriented approach of departing incumbent Ed Reyes and Gardea, his chief deputy, or the development-oriented labor and Chamber of Commerce ties of his principal opponent, Gil Cedillo. For a more livable, sustainable district and a more responsive council office, Gardea is the better choice.

City Council District 3: Bob Blumenfield. The southwestern portion of the San Fernando Valley needs a councilman who can sustain economic development while preserving residents' quality of life and applying fiscal discipline to citywide matters. Blumenfield's experience as a district director for a congressman and as the Assembly budget chair during the state's meltdown and recovery make him the best choice. The quality of candidates who come from the neighborhood council system is improving, and some in this race would be credible alternatives to candidates in other districts, but Blumenfield offers knowledge and experience that voters should not pass up.

City Council District 5: Paul Koretz. As an incumbent, Koretz hasn't always made the most responsible choices in the citywide fiscal crisis. But he has been a capable council member in his Westside and San Fernando Valley district, and his challenger fails to demonstrate that he would do better.

City Council District 7: Felipe Fuentes. Fuentes is smart and has relevant experience to serve as councilman in this northern San Fernando Valley district, but he has left himself ample room for improvement, having allowed special interests to write many of his bills while he was in the Assembly. The Times endorses him, somewhat reluctantly, because we have examined the field and found none of the alternatives to be capable of serving. That's a shame because this district, more than most, is in need of strong advocacy and wise decision-making to better the lives of residents.

City Council District 9: David Roberts. A new community spirit is afoot in this South Los Angeles district, and residents need someone who knows how to parlay it into economic development and improved quality of life. Given his successful experience as a City Council deputy, Roberts is the better choice over candidates who have stronger ties to other communities inside and outside Los Angeles.

City Council District 11: Mike Bonin. Styles and strategies are different enough between departing incumbent Bill Rosendahl and Bonin, his chief deputy, that voters in choosing Bonin would be opting for continuity while still getting some new energy and verve.

City Council District 13: Mitch O'Farrell. In this classic showdown among candidates embraced and funded by politicos and by labor, voters in this district of Hollywood, Atwater Village, Silver Lake and parts in between would be wise to instead opt for O'Farrell, who is independent of both groups. He is a former council staffer with a track record of responsive constituent service.

City Council District 15: Joe Buscaino. Watts, Harbor Gateway, Harbor City, Wilmington and San Pedro deserve a council member committed to top-flight advocacy and constituent service. It's too early to say that one-year incumbent Buscaino has delivered, but he's on the right track.

Board of Education District 2: Monica Garcia. Incumbent Garcia is the best of a bad bunch of candidates because she supports the reform efforts of Supt. John Deasy.

Board of Education District 4: Kate Anderson. A reform-minded candidate, Anderson is the better choice over incumbent Steve Zimmer, who has failed in his efforts to bridge the gap between the union and reform camps.

Board of Education District 6: Monica Ratliff. A fifth-grade teacher at an inner-city L.A. Unified school that has steadily raised its standardized test scores, Ratliff has the background, smarts and independence of mind to become a true leader in the district.

Community College District trustee seat 2: Mike Eng. Eng has substantial government experience and would be a quick study for this at-large board.

Community College District trustee seat 4: Jozef Essavi. A real estate broker and repeat candidate, Essavi is more focused than his opponents on the key issues: high dropout rates, lack of course offerings, misuse of construction funds and the role of outside interests in determining board priorities.

Community College District trustee seat 6: Tom Oliver. A retired president of Pierce College, Oliver is by far the most articulate and informed challenger to longtime board member Nancy Pearlman, who has not been effective and has trouble outlining a clear vision for reform.

Proposition A (permanent half-cent sales tax increase): No. It's hard to count all the ways that City Hall leaders have blown this opportunity to pump more revenue into the city, but let's start with these: This sales tax should have been temporary, and it should not have been proposed at precisely the time that neither the outgoing administration of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa nor the incoming team of the new mayor and City Council could avoid accountability for it. Nor should it come just in time for both management and labor negotiators to see the revenue as a new available pot of money for new contracts.

Charter Amendment B (fire and police pension plan): Yes. This measure would allow police officers transferring from one city pension agency to another to buy into the appropriate retirement plan. Because officers would be paying for the transfer, this measure would allow an acceptable transfer without adding to the pension crisis.