Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa established a solid lead over his nine challengers Tuesday, securing a second four-year term. But one of his closest allies, Councilman Jack Weiss, appeared headed for a May 19 runoff in the contest for city attorney.
With about half of the votes counted, Villaraigosa avoided a runoff against the second-place candidate, attorney Walter Moore.The mayor had been expected to secure the needed majority, given that he had appeared in television commercials for himself and two other campaigns -- and had outspent Moore by a ratio of 15 to 1.
Taking the stage shortly before 11 p.m. at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel downtown, Villaraigosa was greeted with a short burst of applause.
“I stand before you all humbled tonight, humbled by your support and by your confidence. I’m humbled by your continued trust and your continuing forgiveness,” he said.
In other contests, Councilwoman Wendy Greuel was drawing enough votes to avoid a runoff in her bid for city controller, holding a commanding lead on businesswoman Kathleen “Suzy” Evans and engineer Nick Patsaouras, according to early results. City attorney candidate Jack Weiss, a Westside councilman, appeared headed for a May 19 runoff against Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich, although early returns showed Deputy City Atty. Michael Amerian narrowly in third place.
Villaraigosa had been hoping to use Tuesday’s election to expand his political reach at City Hall, ushering Weiss and Greuel into citywide office. Having those two in such powerful posts would represent a dramatic break for the mayor, who frequently disagreed with City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and had an increasingly distant relationship with City Controller Laura Chick. Both Chick and Delgadillo are being forced out by term limits.
Los Angeles voters also were approving a major component of Villaraigosa’s renewable energy platform: Measure B, the solar energy plan. The measure, heavily backed by the union that represents workers at the Department of Water and Power, would require the city to add 400 megawatts of solar panels by 2014.
Only two years ago, Villaraigosa’s political standing had been damaged by an extramarital affair and by a judge’s decision to invalidate his plan for gaining more control of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
A solid victory by Villaraigosa would show that he has bounced back, keeping him in play as one of the Democrats who could mount a statewide bid for governor in 2010. Moore voiced satisfaction that Villaraigosa experienced such a weak showing in the early returns.
“My voters were both angry and optimistic and excited,” he said.
Villaraigosa used this year’s campaign as an informal launching pad by appearing not just in a barrage of commercials for himself, but in 30-second spots for Weiss and Measure B.
Still, Tuesday’s election drew little public interest and an anemic voter turnout, mostly due to the absence of drama at the top of the ticket. Unlike the 2005 mayor’s race, when Villaraigosa toppled incumbent Mayor James K. Hahn to become the city’s first Latino mayor in 133 years, no formidable candidates entered the race to derail Villaraigosa’s pursuit of a second four-year term.
Political experts had feared that turnout would fall far below the nearly 29% turnout in the 2005 mayoral primary.
Villaraigosa regularly deflects questions about a gubernatorial bid, saying only that he loves being the mayor of the nation’s second-largest city. Yet even if he runs, Tuesday’s victory will buy the mayor at least 18 more months to work on his ambitious agenda for the city -- one that touches on public safety, schools, transportation and the environment.
Villaraigosa is more than two-thirds of the way toward his goal of hiring 1,000 additional police officers. The mayor also is attempting to replace as many as 17,000 older diesel trucks at the Port of Los Angeles and reach his goal of ensuring that 20% of the power at the DWP comes from renewable sources, such as wind and solar energy.
The mayor’s political staying power had been in doubt two years ago, when he faced withering criticism for engaging in an affair with a Spanish-language television reporter. Those revelations followed the defeat of Villaraigosa’s effort to gain control at the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Still, Villaraigosa retained enough cachet to campaign during much of last year for the presidential bid of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Villaraigosa’s supporters on the school board agreed to give him control over a handful of public schools at L.A. Unified -- campuses that were featured in the mayor’s 30-second commercials for his reelection this year.
By November, real estate developer Rick Caruso ended his flirtation with a mayoral bid, leaving a field of nine underfunded hopefuls -- none of them with experience in public office -- to run for the job.
The most prominent was attorney Moore, who had raised a credible $212,000, far more than any other challenger but nowhere near the $3 million war chest Villaraigosa used to air a series of feel-good commercials focusing on public education and reduced crime.
Appearing at the same victory party as Villaraigosa, Weiss launched into an attack on Trutanich’s decision to represent environmental polluters during his two decades as a private attorney. Although he did not mention Trutanich by name, Weiss criticized Trutanich’s law firm for representing the National Rifle Assn.
“The city attorney is all about who’s on your side and fighting for what is right,” he said.
Trutanich has sought to portray Weiss as negligent in his duties as a councilman and used mailers to remind voters of a 2007 effort to recall Weiss that failed. On election night, Trutanich said Weiss had pulled ahead in large part because his television commercials were on the air weeks before his opponents’.
“If I were Jack Weiss, I’d be concerned,” Trutanich added.
In the race for controller, Greuel had faced noisy, if underfunded, challenges from Patsaouras, a onetime Villaraigosa appointee at the DWP, and Evans.
Throughout the campaign, Patsaouras said Greuel would be a weak successor to Chick, who enthusiastically used her office to criticize an array of city departments and programs.
Greuel responded by portraying Patsaouras as part of Villaraigosa’s inner circle. And she flooded the airwaves with commercials attacking him for paying his taxes late and for running a bank that faced trouble during the 1990s.
At her election night party overlooking the pool at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, Greuel said she would be “tough on our departments and make sure that every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely.”
Los Angeles voters offer a mixed review of the five measures on the city ballot:
* Measure A, which authorized the hiring of an independent assessor to review personnel complaints at the city Fire Department, was narrowly passing.
* Measure B, the Villaraigosa-backed $3-billion solar energy proposal, was just over the 50% needed for approval.
* Measure E, to allow the city to offer financial incentives to businesses, was in a dead heat, according to partial returns.
Voters were approvingMeasures C and D, which made technical changes to the retirement benefits of police officers and firefighters.
Election results Complete returns for elections in Los Angeles and other local jurisdictions will be published in Thursday’s editions. Up-to-date results are available online today at www.latimes.com/election-central . Also contributing to Tuesday’s elections coverage were Michael Finnegan, Carla Hall, Joanna Lin and Alicia Lozano.