Wendy Greuel
Wendy Greuel

In an election that will redefine the city for up to the next eight years, Los Angeles voters on Tuesday will have the rare opportunity to elect three new citywide leaders, plus a majority of the City Council and the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

For the city's top position, the race seems to have divided along insider-outsider lines. Polls and fundraising tallies put three City Hall veterans - Controller Wendy Greuel, Councilman Eric Garcetti and Councilwoman Jan Perry - near the front, while the lone Republican, Kevin James, as well as tech executive Emanuel Pleitez are running as outsider City Hall critics.

In races where no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the top two will compete in a May 21 runoff.

Eric Garcetti
Eric Garcetti (Howard Pasamanick)

Much of the race has focused on the city's budget problems, with a projected $200million-plus shortfall this year and the need to pay more for pensions for city workers.

"It is an election about both continuity and change," said Jaime Regalado, past director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles.

"The continuity is the intractable problems facing Los Angeles from the standpoint of the economy, poverty and the lack of manufacturing. The change is in the people who will be coming in and how they deal with those issues.

"It is kind of exciting to see a wholesale turnover and how these people deal with the problems," Regalado said. "Bringing in a new mayor to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be welcome as people are kind of tired of the mayor we have, which is normal. People get tired of their chief executives after two terms."

The Villaraigosa era was marked, at the beginning, with great promise to reshape City Hall and the city, to be more responsive to community needs while building a city that he said would be the Venice of the 21st century, a new world center for arts, business and science.

Kevin James, 2013 L.A. Mayoral candidate.
Kevin James, 2013 L.A. Mayoral candidate.

Instead, mired in personal controversy and beset by the global recession, many of his most ambitious plans needed to be put on hold.

Villaraigosa did manage to increase the size of the Los Angeles Police Department - contributing to historic drops in crime - and saw the successful passage of the Measure R half-percent sales tax increase to fund transit programs.

Both of those issues have served to limit those who would succeed him in developing new plans for the future - leaving the candidates limited on broad visionary issues that appeal to great numbers of voters to instead focusing on the city's budgetary problems.

In fact, when Greuel proposed adding another 2,000 officers to the LAPD, it was met with sharp skepticism over the cost of the program.

Jan Perry was a 2013 L.A. mayoral candidate.
Jan Perry was a 2013 L.A. mayoral candidate.

In the race, the leading candidates have run on very different platforms. On many issues, however some of the candidates overlap.

Job creation is Garcetti's focus.

Garcetti, 42, has represented the Hollywood area since 2001 and frequently touts the economic turnaround of that neighborhood. He's also stated he intends to rein in city worker costs by addressing health care and pensions.

Greuel, 51, a former city councilwoman representing the east San Fernando Valley, believes audits conducted on her watch will find the city money. She repeatedly references the $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse she's identified at City Hall.

Critics, including rival Garcetti, believe Greuel's $160 million figure is inflated.

Emanuel Pleitez
Emanuel Pleitez (Hans Gutknecht / Staff Photographer)
On some financial issues, however, Garcetti and Greuel are aligned. Both advocate eliminating the city's gross tax receipts.

James, 49, promises widespread reforms at City Hall. He is an advocate of a part-time City Council and cutting salaries for city workers. He is the only Republican in the race.

Unlike Garcetti, Greuel and Perry, he is opposed to more density in Hollywood, believing the city doesn't have adequate sewers and streets.

Perry, 58, is well-known in downtown for her development work. She's been called the most fiscally hawkish of all the candidates. She's also been the most vocal critic on the council of the Department of Water and Power. She also wants to reduce city worker costs through health care and pension reforms. 

Pleitez, 30, also opposes some of the Hollywood development. Like James, he paints himself as an outsider. Both James and Pleitez frequently state L.A. is on the edge of bankruptcy. One of his biggest proposals is to buy out the city employees' pensions, a plan he believes would cost at least $6 billion. Critics say the plan isn't economically feasible.

For Garcetti and Perry, the election offers an opportunity to continue their city political careers as both were facing term limits after their 12 years on the City Council. Greuel could have run for a second term as controller but chose to take the opportunity for an open seat in this year's election.

rick.orlov@dailynews.com

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