By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two longtime fixtures of Los Angeles politics, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel, ventured into a head-to-head race for mayor on Wednesday after decisively forging past six other candidates in a non-partisan primary election.
Garcetti emerged as the top vote-getter, with nearly 33 percent of Tuesday's tally, followed by Greuel, a onetime colleague of his on the City Council with 29 percent, as the two Democrats advanced to a runoff general election set for May 21.
The outcome was of little surprise as both candidates had consistently led the field in pre-election opinion polls and in fund-raising, attracting more than $4 million in contributions each.
The winner of May's runoff will succeed Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor of the nation's second-largest metropolis as the city struggles to rebound from a sustained economic slump, facing a budget deficit set to top $1 billion over the next four years.
Villaraigosa, who chaired the 2012 Democratic National Convention and ranks as one of the nation's highest-profile Latino politicians, is barred from running again after two terms in office.
"The creativity and the genius that is Los Angeles, we will bring back, and that's what I'm going to do as the next mayor of Los Angeles," Garcetti told supporters Tuesday night at a Hollywood nightclub.
At her election-night event at a downtown bar, Greuel told supporters she was confident that Los Angeles would eventually choose her as its first female mayor.
"Los Angeles deserves tough and strong leadership, a leader tough enough to weed out waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall and bring our fiscal house in order. I am that leader," she said.
Both candidates have vowed to slash city business taxes to help spur economic growth and both opposed a proposed Villaraigosa-backed half-cent sales tax increase proposed on Tuesday's ballot.
The latest returns showed voters rejecting the tax increase, 55 percent to 49 percent, despite warnings that the proposal's defeat would lead to layoffs of police and cutbacks in other municipal services.
The tax hike, known as Measure A, would have boosted city sales taxes to 9.5 percent just under the 10 percent cap imposed under state law and would have raised more than $200 million a year for the municipal coffers.
Although they took similar positions on some key fiscal issues, Garcetti and Greuel represented sharp contrasts in political pedigree and backgrounds.
Garcetti, 42, who served as council president from 2006 to 2011, is known as a consensus builder and has called attention to his record on environmental initiatives and his role in the urban revival of once-blighted areas of Hollywood.
A onetime Rhodes scholar, he is also the son of former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who was the city's top prosecutor during the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.
Greuel, 51, has touted her current role as city controller in uncovering waste and fraud, while in her former position on the council she was known as the "Pothole Queen" for her dedication to street repairs in her suburban district.
She served as a deputy mayor in the administration of late former Mayor Tom Bradley and enjoys strong union support.
Trailing in Tuesday's primary was Republican candidate Kevin James, an entertainment lawyer and former talk-show host who finished third with more than 16 percent of the vote, followed in fourth place by City Councilwoman Jan Perry, a Democrat, with just under 16 percent. The field was rounded out by four lesser-known candidates.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bernard Orr)