Two seasoned Los Angeles bureaucrats will face off in May for the City Council seat representing the 12th District, a semi-rural San Fernando Valley area that was the epicenter of support for last fall's failed secession campaign.
City Hall veteran Greig Smith and Julie Korenstein, a longtime Los Angeles school board member, emerged Wednesday morning as the front-runners in the six-candidate race to replace retiring Councilman Hal Bernson, who was prevented by term limits from seeking reelection after 24 years in office.
The district is in the northwest Valley, where tract homes, horse ranches and conservative ideals reign against the backdrop of the rocky Santa Susana Mountains.
Smith, a top aide to Bernson for 23 years, garnered 34% of the votes. Korenstein, who served for 16 years on the Los Angeles Board of Education, received 28%.
Candidate Paula Boland, a former state assemblywoman, came in third with 24% of the votes while Norman Huberman, Walter Prince and Robert Vinson each received less than 10%.
Like their opponents, three of whom were staunch secession supporters, Smith and Korenstein's campaigns criticized City Hall for not giving the Valley what they said was its fair share of services.
"First and foremost, I plan to fight for Valley resources," Smith said Wednesday.
Council President Alex Padilla said Tuesday night that the election signals a change in secession sentiment. "City Hall got the message loud and clear," he said at Smith's campaign party. "We are working to better serve the Valley, as well as all of Los Angeles."
The candidates said that if they are successful in serving the Valley's needs, secession would fade as an issue.
Smith said he has not devised a strategy for the May 20 runoff.
Five of the Valley's six council members, including Bernson, have backed Smith. Mayor James K. Hahn said Wednesday he is undecided about whom he will support in the runoff.
Smith received financial support from many of the same lobbyists, city contractors and attorneys who also supported Bernson. Smith raised more than $400,000, more than three times the total Korenstein, the next best fund-raiser, collected.
His opponents warned that if Smith wins he will simply preside over a continuation of Bernson's policies.
Smith shrugged off such criticisms.
"Quite frankly, I think voters want to get things done," he said.
Korenstein, one of the longest-serving school board members in the city's history, dismissed her insider status.
"I've been reelected by my constituents," she said, while asserting that Smith has been part of the City Hall status quo for more than two decades. "If anyone is an insider with downtown it's Greig Smith."
If Smith had wanted to boost the Valley's role at City Hall, Korenstein said, he had 23 years to do it.