LOS ANGELES -- City Hall is nearly broke -- and for many, is broken. The airport is an embarrassment. Freeways are clogged. And potholes, cracked sidewalks and untended trees infest many neighborhoods.
There are plenty of problems to solve in Los Angeles, but voters have been mostly indifferent about Tuesday's race for mayor. No single issue or candidate has seized their attention, much less their imaginations, in the contest to succeed outgoing Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa.
The likely outcome in the heavily Democratic city will send two City Hall regulars, Eric Garcetti, 42, and Wendy Greuel, 51, to a May 21 runoff, since it's unlikely any candidate will clear the majority needed to win outright Tuesday.
But in a race with little drama, a turnout that could dip below 20 percent could produce surprises, possibly opening the way for Democratic Councilwoman Jan Perry, 57, or former prosecutor Kevin James, 49, a Republican, to slip into the two-person runoff. Former technology executive Emanuel Pleitez, 30, is a longshot.
The latest polling suggests many voters are wavering.
The city could elect its first woman mayor (Greuel, the city controller, or Perry), the first openly gay one (James), or its first Jewish one (Perry or Garcetti, a city councilman). But the five leading candidates have dueled over issues more commonplace than of historical importance -- ailing schools, a looming deficit, 10.2 percent unemployment and how to stop rising pension and health care costs from snatching money from street repairs and other services.
"The same career politicians that caused our city's problems now promise they can solve them," says James, who's positioned himself as an outsider eager to upend the status quo at City Hall.
Villaraigosa's 2005 election made him Los Angeles' first Hispanic mayor since 1872, but this year's contest has followed a more familiar pattern. Angelenos are known to give local politics a collective shrug -- even turnout in Villaraigosa's closely contested primary in 2005 failed to reach 30 percent.
The mayor was re-elected in 2009 with a meager 152,000 votes, in a city of nearly 4 million people. He leaves office midyear.
The Los Angeles mayor presides over a budget that rises above $7 billion, but it's a notoriously weak office hemmed in by a powerful City Council. Unlike other big cities like New York, the Los Angeles mayor cannot directly appoint the head of schools or police.