This is not a horse race as much as the media treats elections that way; it is a political campaign that promises to be as rough as any for mayor of Los Angeles since the ugliness of Yorty-Bradley contests.
There’s that much ego on the line this time with four elected officials, a former deputy mayor and one total outsider with the potential to run serious campaigns.
The first legitimate poll, conducted by Fernando Guerra’s Center of the Study of LA at Loyola Marymount, provides benchmarks for the candidates based on a variety of factors, including voters’ race, geography, wealth, education, age.
“If the Los Angeles mayoral election were held tomorrow, three candidates would be elbowing for the lead: City Councilman Eric Garcetti, City Controller Wendy Greuel and and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky,” LA Times columnist Jim Newton wrote today based on early access to the poll.
Well, it’s not. The election is 11 months away and no one, not even Yaroslavsky, knows if he’s going to run or whether billionaire Rick Caruso (who wasn’t including in the poll) will jump in at some point.
What we do know is that the poll, part of a larger survey of attitudes toward the city 20 years after the LA riots, questioned equal numbers of randomly selected Latino, black, white and Asian residents over the phone and in their native languages and found out little more than whose name they recognized.
Two-thirds of all 1,605 didn’t have a favorite for mayor, nearly a third aren’t registered voters and barely 40 percent of those who are registered made a selection.
So clearly “don’t know” was the landslide winner with none of the six candidates getting even 25 percent support, indicating the poll mainly racial and gender preferences, a vague impression of the candidates and the ignorance of most voters.
So it’s no surprise that the elected officials who have been around the longest and got their names out in public the most come out on top, with Jan Perry not far behind and potentially a stronger candidate than the pundits generally recognize.
Attorney and radio talk show host Kevin James, the lone Republican, will be hard for the press to continue to ignore any longer with more than 11 percent support from all respondents and 19 percent for third place among Asians.
Investment banker Austin Beutner, who served for more than a year as jobs czar in the Villaraigosa Administration, is virtually unknown to voters with just 3 percent but has unlimited resources to make himself visible. In a city where only 28 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2005 and 18 percent in 2009, money targeted to likely voters can buy a lot of support as it did when Richard Riordan won in 1993.
On the other hand, Garcetti’s support seems fragile since he’s far and away the most popular among Latinos, newcomers to LA, young people and the poor — categories with traditionally low turnout.
For her part, Greuel consistently his in the 20 to 30 percent or above range in just about every category: rich or poor, young or old, educated or not, male or female, Valley or city, union or non-union, whether they love or hate the mayor or think the city is getting better or worse.
The same is true of non-candidate Yaroslavsky, except the low turnout poor and minorities don’t like him much.
That makes the City Controller and the County Supervisor — both former City Council members — the front-runners in the horse race as they come out of the gate with a long and bumpy road ahead.
This election is going to get personal and nasty and the issues before the electorate have the potential to be explosive.
The divisions in the city run deep. Disenchantment is widespread. The economy sucks. The budget is a perpetual flashpoint because no one in office — not the mayor, council or controller — have shown the political will to actually fix the problem over the last four years.
And that more than anything gives opportunity for advantage to the City Hall outsider James, partial outsider Beutner and former insider Yaroslavsky who can demonstrate that despite all that has gone wrong on the revenue side, the county is not in the same trouble as the city.
It’s hard to believe that more than a few voters really have committed themselves to a candidate at this point so support is soft at best.
Add in the fact that 75 to 80 percent of registered voters are waiting in the wings for someone to light the fire of their passions.
The question isn’t whether this poll means anything at all. It is how bold and daring will any of the candidates will be in reaching out and convincing voters and potential voters that they are actually up to the task of leading this city fragmented as it is by race and class and ideology?
For too long, the power structure has survived by dividing and conquering. Can any of these candidates create a campaign that bridges the gap, that overcomes the apathy and defeatism, and then actually govern if they prevail next March?