By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel looked set for a run-off vote after a Tuesday primary election, in a race that has seen the two Democrats vow to slash business taxes to help the city rebound from a persistent economic slump.
The non-partisan election in the nation's second-largest city was held to narrow the field of candidates, with the top two contenders advancing, as expected, to a final vote in May.
With about 90 percent of precincts reporting, Garcetti, a Los Angeles city council official, was ahead with 33 percent of the vote compared with 29.3 percent for Greuel, the city's controller. In pre-election polling, both candidates led consistently against their six rivals on the ballot.
The eventual winner will succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is one of the United States' most high-profile Latino politicians and chaired the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He 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 at a Hollywood nightclub.
At her election-night event at a downtown bar, Greuel told supporters Los Angeles would eventually choose her as its first woman 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 told the crowd.
Trailing both in recent pre-election polls were former talk-show host Kevin James, a Republican, and city council official Jan Perry, a Democrat.
In preliminary ballot results, James had 16.3 percent of the vote count compared with 15.8 percent for Perry.
A USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll conducted late last month showed Garcetti and Greuel to be clear front-runners but found considerable fluidity remaining in the electorate.
Reflecting that lack of conviction, voter Mary Milelzcik, 64, said she cast her primary ballot for Greuel. "But I don't know if I'll vote for her in the final runoff. I'll need more information about how she's going to get things done."
SEEKING TO GIVE BUSINESSES A BREAK
The city's sluggish economy and bleak fiscal outlook are likely to overshadow other issues preoccupying the next mayor, and they have loomed large in the campaign.
Garcetti and Greuel oppose a proposed Villaraigosa-backed half-cent sales tax hike and have both called for cuts in business taxes to promote economic growth, even as the city scrimps to plug a budget hole set to top $1 billion over the next four years.
The commercial tax structure that Garcetti and Greuel vow to phase out is known as the gross receipts tax, and it varies by type of business. Internet-based companies, for instance, are taxed at $1 per $1,000 in receipts, while professional service firms pay $5 per $1,000.
The two front-runners were separated in the USC Price poll by just 2 percentage points - 27 percent for Garcetti to 25 percent for Greuel - despite sharp differences in their political pedigree and backgrounds.
Garcetti, 42, who served as council president from 2006 to 2011, is known as a consensus builder who has touted 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, in her current role as controller is tasked with uncovering waste and fraud, while in her former position on the council she was known as the "Pothole Queen" for her dedication to street repair in her suburban district.
She served as a deputy mayor in the administration of late former Mayor Tom Bradley.
Garcetti and Greuel have led the field in fundraising by pulling in more than $4 million in contributions each, according to campaign records from the city. But Greuel, a former DreamWorks executive, has received an extra boost in over $2 million spent independently on her behalf, records show.
Most of that comes from a group called Working Californians to Elect Wendy Greuel that is backed, in large part, by city employee unions.
Outside groups and individuals have set a record by spending more than $4.8 million for or against the mayoral candidates and the contenders for other city offices.
(Additional reporting by Dana Feldman and Steve Gorman; Editing by Louise Ireland)