STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Voters in Los Angeles pick a new mayor Tuesday to replace Antonio Villaraigosa, who is term-limited. The race pits a city councilman against the city controller. Both of the leading candidates had left-leaning voting records while on the City Council. With just four days left of campaigning, polls have the two in a virtual dead heat. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Campaigning in a 470-square-mile city sliced up into neighborhoods divided by a web of freeways, you log a lot of miles, and appear at a lot of forums.

ERIC GARCETTI: How are you doing guys? Good to see you.

SIEGLER: One night this week, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel were courting South LA's African-American and Hispanic vote in Watts. Inside the Macedonia Baptist Church, both candidates smiled and swayed to the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGLER: A few minutes later, as Hispanic voters tried on their headphones to listen in translation, it was down to business.

(SOUNDBITE OF FORUM)

PASTOR SHANE SCOTT: And tonight, we are gathered in Watts because Watts is one of those places in our city that has been left out, forgotten and forsaken.

SIEGLER: Pastor Shane Scott introduced both Garcetti and Greuel, who are undoubtedly outsiders in neighborhoods like this. Garcetti represents Hollywood on the City Council, and Greuel hails from the suburban San Fernando Valley. But Garcetti has Mexican heritage, and has picked up key endorsements from Hispanic leaders.

For her part, Greuel often talks about working for the popular former Mayor Tom Bradley, and Bill Clinton, as she mentioned during the forum.

(SOUNDBITE OF FORUM)

WENDY GREUEL: It is about jobs. President Clinton the other day said at an event, and we were talking about when I introduced him, that there's no better social program than a good job.

SIEGLER: Clinton has endorsed Greuel, who also has the backing of the city's powerful unions. And that's been Garcetti's main attack, on the stump and in ads, that Greuel is beholden to big labor. She, in return, paints him as the candidate of big developers. Right now, though, Hollywood is booming.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And when you think of Eric Garcetti, he's helped put the opportunity back in Hollywood. And so, Eric, we're proud to endorse you.

SIEGLER: At a recent event at the Hollywood Chamber, Garcetti used the occasion to tout his business-friendly record while on the City Council. Garcetti has won praise for helping turn around the once-blighted neighborhood, which today is buzzing with tourists and construction.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVENT)

GARCETTI: It shows that even in tough times, we can create jobs, help businesses, and revitalize neighborhoods. It's what I'm going to do across Los Angeles, block by block, one neighborhood at a time.

SIEGLER: Wendy Greuel sounds similar themes about revitalizing LA at her events. And like Garcetti, she doesn't miss an opportunity to talk about LA's troubled schools.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCHOOL BOARD MEETING)

GREUEL: Hey. Hi. Hello. Nice to see you all here.

SIEGLER: Outside of a school board meeting downtown this week - the agenda of which read like a laundry list of the district's problems - Greuel shook hands with supporters and union members wearing purple shirts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCHOOL BOARD MEETING)

GREUEL: Being the mayor of the second-largest city in the country, you have a lot of power. You have a lot of voice. And we've seen it grow over the years. The mayors have taken a greater role, you know, each day, and I'm going to continue in that vein.

SIEGLER: But the reality is, unlike New York or Chicago, LA's mayor has little actual power, especially when it comes to schools. It's among the reasons observers say the current race hasn't garnered much interest. There's even been little buzz over the fact that Wendy Greuel could be LA's first female mayor. Despite a record $20 million spent in the March primary, barely 20 percent of registered voters bothered to turn out. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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