In a watershed election featuring five open seats for the Los Angeles City Council, political novice Eric Garcetti claimed a narrow victory over veteran lawmaker Mike Woo as another newcomer, Jack Weiss, pulled ahead of longtime legislator Tom Hayden.
And in the southernmost slice of the city, Janice Hahn declared victory after midnight in the 15th District, a race she led all night.
"I think the voters chose experience and history in the city over a newcomer," she said. "People just decided at this time in Los Angeles, they needed someone who could hit the ground running."
In a tooth-and-nail fight for the west San Fernando Valley's 3rd District, Police Sgt. Dennis Zine and former council aide Judith Hirshberg were locked in a virtual tie as the clock approached midnight, while urban planner Jan Perry defeated Assemblyman Carl Washington in the 9th District.
With term limits taking effect, Tuesday's voting filled one-third of the 15 City Council seats as part of a dramatic change in a body that by early next year will have a majority of freshmen.
"This is a very important election," said Mayor Richard Riordan. "It's important that we get a balance of new blood and people who know the system."
Although the turnover in the council will be great, most of those in line for seats are veteran politicians, with multiple campaigns in their past or years of government service. Several of the races portend a shift to the left on the City Council.
In one of the night's tightest races, former Councilman Woo and Garcetti wrestled for the upper hand for much of the night in one of the city's most liberal districts, the 13th, before Woo conceded.
"I'm ready to hit the ground running," said Garcetti, who would be sworn in after the council certifies the election results. "The moment they call, I'm coming to City Hall."
Weiss captured an early lead in the race with Hayden, a former state senator, although Weiss was lesser known.
Hayden, a Westwood resident, cited his 18 years as a state legislator, and Weiss, who lives in Bel-Air, touted his work as a federal prosecutor in their campaigns for the 5th District seat vacated when incumbent Mike Feuer decided to run for city attorney. The district includes areas of Westwood, Cheviot Hills, Century City, Bel-Air, Sherman Oaks, Studio City and Valley Glen.
Weiss was buoyed by the early returns, but predicted a close race and a long night before the contest was settled.
"I started from a position of having no political visibility whatsoever," Weiss said. "I think the campaign went extremely well. I really felt we connected with the voters."
"We fought a good fight. We won the debates. We mobilized a great grass-roots effort and we challenged business as usual in the city," said Hayden.
Weiss enjoyed the backing of Riordan and liberal Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, but was outspent slightly in the race by Hayden, who loaned his own runoff campaign $170,000.
Hayden was endorsed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, the county Federation of Labor and the Sierra Club.
All three women vying for spots on the council pulled ahead in early returns. Perry and Hahn maintained comfortable leads over their rivals all evening, but Hirshberg lost a small edge over Zine as the night wore on.
Hirshberg appeared unruffled as the race tightened. "What will be will be," she said. "I still think I'm going to win."
Zine was more exuberant at news of his narrow lead. "Forty-two votes!" he shouted as he ran into a hotel ballroom filled with supporters. "It's like having a baby. Here you think it's coming and then it's not."
In the 15th District, which stretches from Watts to San Pedro and Wilmington, Hahn surged into an early lead over Cepeda.
Hahn, a San Pedro resident and former elected charter reform commissioner for the district, is the sister of mayoral candidate James K. Hahn and the daughter of the late county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.
Cepeda, of San Pedro, is the former field director for Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who is being forced by term limits to vacate the 15th District seat.
Hahn said she was confident she and her brother, mayoral candidate James Hahn, would win, but Cepeda was not conceding.
"It's a great start. I feel good tonight," Janice Hahn said early in the evening. "I think it's going to be a Hahn-Hahn win tonight."
Cepeda responded: "By and large, we identified our voters and got them to the polls."
In the 13th District, which includes parts of Hollywood, Echo Park and Silver Lake, Garcetti, a professor at Occidental College and the son of former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, took an early lead over Woo, who held the seat previously. Garcetti, a resident of Echo Park, outspent Woo in the race for the seat, which was vacated when incumbent Jackie Goldberg won election last year to the Assembly.
"We waged an incredibly positive and uplifting campaign in the face of politics as usual and dirty campaign tactics," Garcetti said.
In the west San Fernando Valley's 3rd District, Zine, a police union director, outspent Hirshberg, a former aide to Councilman Marvin Braude.
Zine, a West Hills resident who was previously elected by the district to a charter reform commission, also benefited from an independent expenditure campaign by the police union.
Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Tina Daunt, Jean Guccione, Annette Kondo, Caitlin Liu and Zanto Peabody contributed to this story.