Opinion

Who will be L.A.'s next mayor?

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Los Angeles' mayoral election is still nearly two years away, but the field of candidates already is taking shape. And the race is certain to present voters with starkly different choices about who should run Los Angeles next. More contenders undoubtedly will find themselves drawn to the opportunity, but here are the early candidates to watch.

Wendy Greuel

L.A.'s controller was the first candidate officially in the race and the only one to have already been elected to citywide office. A former council member who won her seat on that body by a squeaker in 2002, Greuel is a resilient campaigner whose soft manner belies a tough fighter. Greuel is universally well-liked and can count on some labor support, but her base -- liberals, Westsiders, Jews -- may hold back until it's clear what Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will do. That makes building wide support tough for Greuel, at least for the moment.

Jan Perry

Perry, the only other serious candidate to have filed so far, has represented downtown since 2001 and has presided over its remarkable, if uneven, transformation, with Staples Center invigorating the south end of the city center even as Skid Row mars its eastern edge. Perry's dogged efforts have given her both a resume of success and an intriguing blend of supporters, from the area's loyal but shrinking African American voting core to some of the city's most influential business executives (Tim Leiweke, major domo of Staples Center, has been a stalwart ally). She starts with a solid base, but she lacks a citywide reputation.

Eric Garcetti

President of the Los Angeles City Council since 2005, Garcetti is intelligent, a gifted coalition-builder and admired for his devotion to his city and to public service. None question his capacity for complexity, and he's immersed himself in the hard business of addressing the city's daunting pension crisis, emerging last week with an important breakthrough. The big question for him: Even some of his admirers wonder whether he's tough enough to be an effective mayor. If he runs, he's immediately near the front of the pack.

Austin Beutner

Once a successful investment banker, Beutner decided to pursue public service after a devastating bike accident gave him time to think. He took a job with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and says that he has been successful in luring businesses to Los Angeles with a three-year business tax holiday for new firms. Beutner's counting on the same kind of sentiments that put Richard Riordan in office: a city worried about the economy and looking for someone to bring a businessman's sensibility to the job. Beutner has two problems: He's not entirely an outsider, since he now works for the mayor, who is not terribly popular at this point. And he's not Riordan -- Beutner lacks Riordan's long engagement in civic affairs and his gregariousness. But Beutner also has strengths: He's smart, successful and beloved by the business community.

Rick Caruso

Caruso is best-known as the developer of big, showy malls, the Grove in Los Angeles and the Americana at Brand in Glendale. But he's also done his time in city government, serving on various commissions, including, most notably, the Police Commission that replaced Bernard C. Parks with William J. Bratton. Caruso is tough, polished and rich -- he can play rough, which some admire and others are repelled by -- and he's been hinting at his interest in this race since the moment Villaraigosa was reelected. For him the question is: Is America's most diverse -- and one of its most liberal -- cities prepared to elect a white, male mall developer?

Alex Padilla

A state senator, Padilla began his public service career when he was elected, at the age of 26, to the City Council. He was a moderately distinguished member of that fairly undistinguished body (his website claims as achievements "hiring William Bratton as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department" when he merely cast one vote in favor of the Police Commission's action, and serving as acting mayor on 9/11, which he did only because James Hahn was out of town). The only prominent Latino so far in the race, Padilla has obvious strengths, but, as Villaraigosa's losing mayoral race in 2001 showed, it can be hard to run for citywide office when your most recent service is in Sacramento. Some observers think he's running for name recognition and positioning for the future.

Zev Yaroslavsky

Yaroslavsky is the race's wild card, a position he's been in before. And that's precisely the rub for the longtime county supervisor and former City Council member. No one in the contest has the immediate name recognition that Yaroslavsky would have on entering the race. But Yaroslavsky has famously dithered about running time and again. This time he has the looming issue of being termed out as a county supervisor, which could be a powerful incentive, but unless and until he fully commits himself to this race, his supporters will hold back, afraid that he may once again back out. If he jumps in -- really and truly in -- he's the front-runner. Until then, he's a cloud that hangs over everybody else.

jim.newton@latimes.com

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