Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti won reelection Tuesday in what appeared to be one of the biggest landslides in the city’s history, crushing 10 little-known rivals and strengthening his standing for a potential run for higher office.
With nearly half the ballots counted, Garcetti was holding more than 80% of the vote. If his vote share remains in that range when the tally is done, it will likely surpass the record of nearly a century of Los Angeles mayors.
With Tuesday’s low voter turnout, however, it’s possible that Garcetti will have won fewer votes than other mayors, such as Tom Bradley.
"Thank you for giving me the honor of being your mayor for another term," Garcetti told hundreds of supporters Tuesday night at a union hall in Pico-Union.
Eight City Council seats were also at stake in Tuesday’s primary, with incumbents across the city each holding a lopsided lead over their challengers as votes were tallied through the evening. In the closest council race, incumbent Gil Cedillo appeared early Wednesday to have avoided a runoff against challenger Joe Bray-Ali, receiving just under 51% of the votes with all precincts reporting.
In a season when Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency has dominated politics worldwide, it has been hard for Garcetti and others on the L.A. ballot to capture the public’s attention.
Garcetti spent more than $3 million trying to burnish his image for an election he stood little chance of losing. His goal was to win not just another term, but also a solid affirmation of hometown support for a potential run for higher office. He governs a city of nearly 4 million people, but is barely known outside Southern California.
In his campaign, Garcetti stressed his record raising the minimum wage, cutting business taxes and backing ballot measures to expand public transit and house the homeless.
The recent surge in homelessness and an uptick in crime threatened to dampen Garcetti’s support, even if he was widely expected to win the majority vote that he needs to avoid a May 16 runoff.
Public anxiety over explosive growth of development in Hollywood and other neighborhoods fueled support for Measure S, which would hinder some major real estate projects. Passage of the measure would have been a blow to the pro-development mayor, but it was losing by a wide margin Tuesday night.
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A liberal Democrat, Garcetti also faced criticism from immigrant rights advocates who accused him of failing to speak out forcefully enough against Trump, a charge he denied. They criticized him for resisting labeling Los Angeles a “sanctuary city” for immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
On Tuesday night, scores of protesters gathered outside Garcetti's election celebration at the Pico-Union office of Laborers International Union of North America Local 300.
"Sanctuary is our demand, Mayor Garcetti take a stand," they chanted.
Garcetti has sought to raise his national profile in recent weeks by denouncing Trump’s immigration policies in television news interviews.
“He’s out there defending the cause,” Romario Ortiz, 27, the son of immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador, said Tuesday after voting for Garcetti at an Echo Park polling station.
Only one of Garcetti’s challengers, Democratic political operative Mitchell Schwartz, posed at least a minimal threat. Schwartz spent nearly $700,000 on the contest, much of it for final-week mailings to voters. It has been many decades since that kind of small-scale campaign has succeeded in an L.A. mayor’s race.
The other two citywide elected officials, Controller Ron Galperin and City Atty. Mike Feuer, were running unopposed Tuesday, as was Councilman Bob Blumenfield in the West Valley.
But Cedillo and City Councilmen Paul Koretz, Curren Price, Mike Bonin, Mitch O’Farrell and Joe Buscaino were all facing challengers. In the East Valley, 20 candidates were vying for the open council seat last held by Felipe Fuentes.
Cedillo, who served 14 years as a state lawmaker before winning his council seat four years ago, was facing one of the most serious challenges, from Bray-Ali, a bike activist. But the first round of election returns found that even Cedillo stood a chance of winning a majority and avoiding a runoff.
One sign of concern among Cedillo supporters was a late $80,000 expenditure by a Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce committee on Spanish-language radio ads promoting the Eastside councilman. The ads focused on his work supporting immigrants in the country illegally.
At Cedillo’s party Tuesday night in Highland Park, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said a runoff looked unlikely.
“He’s a fighter and I think the people recognize that,” said Villaraigosa, now a candidate for governor.
Price, one of three African Americans on the council, was trying to fend off two Latino challengers in his district just south of downtown. The district has become a test of black political power in recent years as the Latino population has steadily risen. Initial returns showed Price easily avoiding a runoff.
Koretz, Bonin, O’Farrell and Buscaino were each defeating their opponents handily in early returns. In the open East Valley district, early returns showed Karo Torossian and Monica Rodriguez best positioned to make a May runoff.
The trickle of voters at city polling stations captured the city’s prevailing attitude toward the election: indifference.
“Four people in line at my polling place is four more people than I thought would be at my polling place, so that’s something,” USC graduate student Alex Amadeo wrote on Twitter.
The city’s elected officials normally serve four-year terms. But because of a shift in the election calendar, winners of this year’s elections will serve 5½ years. Starting in 2020, city elections will coincide with state and federal elections.