With her 1-year-old grandson in tow, Los Angeles school board member Julie Korenstein set out under cloudy skies Tuesday to bang on doors in Granada Hills, hoping to coax a few more voters to the polls.
Hours later, now cradling another tiny grandson, she showed up at what she hoped would be her victory party. Amid blaring Latin pop music and tables laden with cold cuts and a giant salmon mousse, Korenstein predicted a strong showing in a crowded race to replace retiring Councilman Hal Bernson in the northwest Valley's 12th District.
"I feel good, especially with what we've done on a shoestring budget," she said. "A runoff tonight would be a victory."
Another contender, home builder Robert Vinson, spent most of the day on the phone, calling undecided voters until his voice was hoarse. But candidate Norman Huberman took it easy, wiped out by a late night stuffing campaign fliers.
It was the drizzly end to a ferocious race -- the first election in the Valley since secession failed last year -- and one tinged with allegations of sign-stealing, misleading ads and phony endorsements, and in early returns it wasn't clear which two candidates would emerge for the May 20 runoff.
As the six candidates scampered into the home stretch, though, one was so far ahead of the others that he didn't bother to show up at several recent candidate forums. Cashing in on his 23 years of City Hall experience, Greig Smith steamrolled over his rivals as he chased campaign cash and endorsements. As a top aide to Bernson, Smith raised more than $400,000 -- more than three times what Korenstein, the next best fund-raiser, collected.
Walter Prince, a lesser-known candidate and owner of a janitorial business, said he was disgusted by the avalanche of money cascading into the race from developers, unions and lobbyists. "There's a ton of baggage there that's going to be hung around anybody's neck who gets into office," said Prince, who raised less than $5,000. "You trying to tell me you're going to ignore those [special interests] and represent the little guys who didn't give you a nickel? It just doesn't follow."
A semirural mix of suburban ranch homes and horse stables nestled against the Santa Susana Mountains, the 12th District is something of a contrarian outpost in a liberal city. Many residents are angry over the planned expansion of the Sunshine Canyon Landfill, leery of development and unconvinced that they receive their fair share of city services.The discontent boiled over during last year's Valley secession campaign, when a hefty majority of the district's voters favored breaking up the city.
Four months later tempers still haven't cooled. Three of the six candidates were secession leaders -- Prince, Huberman, and former Assemblywoman Paula Boland -- and all favored business tax reform and stronger neighborhood councils.
Councilwoman Wendy Greuel coasted to a smooth reelection in the 2nd District. She had no opposition this time around -- a sharp contrast to her hard-won victory last year against Assemblyman Tony Cardenas. But Cardenas got a second chance at a council seat, thanks to a redistricting plan aimed at soothing Valley tempers. He was leading businessman Jose Roy Garcia in early returns in the newly drawn 6th District, now in the predominantly Latino northeast Valley.
Times staff writers Kristina Sauerwein and Michael Krikorian contributed to this report.