LA mayor's race appears headed for runoff

Wednesday, April 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The race to lead the nation's second-largest city appeared headed into a runoff as no clear winner emerged among the leading candidates: a City Hall veteran, a Hispanic former lawmaker and a Republican businessman.

With 47 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night, former state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa had 30 percent, or 81,337 votes. City Attorney James Hahn had 28 percent, or 76,245 votes. Real estate broker Steve Soboroff had 19 percent, or 50,805 votes.

Villaraigosa offered the prospect of the city's first Latino mayor in more than a century. Hahn's late father was a county supervisor beloved in the black community. And Soboroff was outgoing Mayor Richard Riordan's choice to continue initiatives to boost business and streamline government.

City Councilman Joel Wachs led the rest of the field of 15 candidates with 10 percent, or 27,761 votes.

If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates advance to a June 5 runoff.

A delay in the election results was likely due to a high number of absentee ballots and provisional ballots. The city sent out 209,000 absentee ballots; about 117,000 had been returned as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Voter numbers were also expected to be high; City Clerk Mike Carey predicted a turnout near 40 percent, greater than in any past city primary.

The campaign was the city's most expensive, with the six leading candidates raising more than $17 million.

In other races:

_Former U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia Diane Watson led in the race for the 32nd Congressional District seat opened by the death of Rep. Julian Dixon. With 38 percent of precincts reporting, Watson had 34 percent, or 14,337 votes; state Sen. Kevin Murray had 26 percent, or 11,213 votes; and City Councilman Nate Holden had 17 percent, or 7,202 votes.

_Eight seats were up on the 15-member City Council, including one sought by former 1960s radical and longtime state legislator Tom Hayden. In that race, Hayden led with 32 percent, or 6,140 votes, followed by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Weiss with 24 percent, or 4,712 votes.

_City attorney, city controller and three city school board seats were also on the ballot.

The city election was nonpartisan, meaning candidates aren't identified by party on the ballot.

Villaraigosa and Soboroff came under mysterious attack when voters began receiving taped telephone messages designed to sound like campaign calls.

One message implied that a key Villaraigosa supporter actually opposed him. The anti-Soboroff callers pretended to support him, saying his campaign was faltering and needed ``Jewish money.'' The district attorney is investigating the calls.

The new mayor will inherit numerous challenges, from managing police reform in the wake of a corruption scandal to dealing with secessionist threats in such places as the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood.

But the city of 3.7 million is also being recognized for its stability amid California's energy crisis. Its Department of Water and Power avoided deregulation, has power to spare and brags about not raising rates.

Los Angeles' economy, not long ago seen as missing out on the dot-com revolution, is now seen as so diversified that forecasters predict it will be spared the recession expected in the rest of the state.

Yet voters had significant concerns as they went to the polls.

``We can't expect to be surrounded by power problems and not be affected in some way by them,'' William Epps said. ``Los Angeles is not an island all by itself.''

Secession was a nagging worry for Alana Sullivan as she voted.

``If that happens, it's going to have a major economic impact on all of us,'' she said.