Discuss as:

Fatigued electorate to make historic choice in Los Angeles

Los Angeles will make history when voters elect a new mayor on Tuesday but the runoff race between two Democratic candidates isn’t drawing much interest as turnout could reach a record low despite the more than $33 million that’s been spent on the nearly two year-long contest to succeed outgoing Mayor Anthony Villagarosa. 

Los Angeles voters are choosing a new mayor today. Razor-tight … and bitter – this race could also make history. But voter turnout is expected to be very low. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

The race pits City Controller Wendy Greuel, who would be the city’s first woman elected to the post, against City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who would be the first elected Jewish mayor.   

Garcetti, the son of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, has maintained a lead in the polls throughout the race, but most expected the runoff contest between the two to tighten. 

Greuel has racked up the most high-profile endorsements in the race, including ones from former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Barbara Boxer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and six members of the state’s congressional delegation.  Garcetti has been endorsed by former DNC Chairman Howard Dean and two California members of Congress. 

Greuel has also been the biggest beneficiary of outside money in the race, with groups combining to spend $7.7 million on her behalf, compared to juts $2.7 million for Garcetti. $5.6 million of that cash for Greuel has come from unions, with just $1 million from labor groups for Garcetti. 

Despite the high-spending contest, few people in Los Angeles seem to be paying very close attention. In the March primary, only 21% of 1.8 million registered voters went to the polls, and runoff turnout is typically much lower than that. According to a Los Angeles Times review, the winner may not even exceed the vote totals of the city’s 1938 contest. 

Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman  said based on early absentee returns, he believes runoff turnout will actually exceed the primary.

But that doesn't mean that voter turnout won't still be low. 

"Voters in Los Angeles have voter fatigue," said Bauman, pointing to a string of not just statewide and congressional elections, but also numerous ballot measures and city and county elections. 

But as Los Angeles has also found itself in financial straits in recent years, Bauman said the race has dealt more with how to just maintain city services, instead of big ideas Villagarosa campaigned on during the last open seat race twelve years ago. 

"You don't have that dramatic flair to drive people to the polls," said Bauman. 

Still, Greuel hasn’t been able to overtake the city councilman in the race, and a USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll released this weekend showed her still trailing seven points, 48%-41%. Garcetti also leads among several critical constituencies – women, Latinos and Democrats, though Greuel has made small gains with each. In the race’s waning days, Greuel has said she remains optimistic the remaining undecided voters will break her way. With African-American voters still breaking nearly even, both candidates spent the weekend visiting black churches in the city’s South side to get voters to the polls.

One of the main reasons Greuel hasn’t been able to overtake the lead – her main labor backer, the city-controlled Department of Water and Power is highly unpopular in the area, especially in the crucial San Fernando Valley, even though she represented the area for seven years on the city council. Garcetti has painted her as a puppet of the city’s public works sector, while Greuel has hit back that Garcetti supported raises for the DWP.  

This story was originally published on