Weeks after the primary election, a faded "Jan Perry for Mayor" sign still hangs outside Laura Hendrix's art gallery in Leimert Park Village in South L.A.
Hendrix is loyal to Councilwoman Perry, who shops at her store and represents parts of South L.A.
But the Perry sign will soon be swapped out with one for Wendy Greuel or Eric Garcetti, Hendrix said. Hendrix is part of a Leimert Park business group planning to endorse in the May 21 run-off.
"We're just starting to look at the candidates," said Hendrix. "I'll be reading up this weekend."
Votes and endorsements are particularly coveted by City Councilman Garcetti and Controller Greuel in South L.A., a key battleground area in the mayor's race. While she didn't make the run-off, Perry swept this region in the primary.
About 12 percent of voters in the March 5 primary were African-American, according to a Loyola Marymount University exit poll.
Hoping to win over former Perry supporters, mayoral candidates Garcetti and Greuel are focusing heavily in the area, either by putting up billboards, opening field offices or touting coveted endorsements from local leaders.
They also laid out specific policy proposals for South L.A. last week. As locals sift through the differences between Greuel and Garcetti, the candidates' ideas for South L.A. could tilt the scales. Economic growth is a top issue, local leaders and locals told the Daily News in interviews over the last few months. In Perry's district, the average resident's annual income is $16,499. Unemployment rates in parts of South L.A. are among the highest in the city.
"Jobs are crucial," said Saundra Bryant, head of All Peoples Community Center, a social services center in South-Central. "We want businesses to come, we want opportunities for local employment."
Bryant pointed to the arrival of Fresh & Easy at Central Avenue and Adams Boulevard in 2010. The store helped provide local jobs in South L.A., which is key, since locals often rely on public transportation to get to work. The store also provided fresh vegetables and fruit in an area known as a food "desert."
But with more than 20 distinct neighborhoods, South L.A., a 50-square mile region, has varying needs. In Leimert Park Village, store owners say they want city grants to let them market the area. In South Central, locals hope a Target moves in. And in Watts, leaders say arts programs funding is needed.
"I would hope the next mayor would understand the diversity of South L.A.," said Bryant, "And listen to our concerns."
Given South L.A.'s importance in the election, Garcetti and Greuel are sharpening their pitches to local residents.
Standing outside the YMCA on 28th Street on Thursday with Perry, Garcetti said he'd create a citywide program for youth employment. He earned the endorsement of Perry, as well as City Councilman Bernard Parks, who also represents South L.A. last week.
"Every young person in South L.A., and East L.A., and the San Fernando Valley (should) have a summer job, if they want one," Garcetti said, outlining his ideas. "Like they used to be able to. I am committed to building that as mayor."
Bringing businesses to the Exposition Line corridor is another goal, he said. The new light rail line, which goes through the edge of South L.A., is seen as a future job hub.
At a competing press conference at West Angeles Church of God in Christ on Thursday, Greuel outlined her own South L.A. proposals. Following the demise of the Community Redevelopment Agency, which used to pay for affordable housing in South L.A., Greuel said she would seek funding alteratives for redevelopment.
Standing next to Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who endorsed Greuel last week, the controller also pledged to convince big box stores to move to the area. Chain corporations are often hesitant to put stores in low-income area, but the arrival of new retail stores provides jobs, which in turn can deter crime and improve neighborhoods.
"We need to go to these national retailers and make sure they move into these communities," Greuel said.
For frustrated residents, change can't happen quickly enough. Taking a break from loading grocery store carts at Family Farms Market in South Central, South Central resident Juan Reyes, 24, complained about car thefts in the store's parking lot. "We need more police officers," said Reyes. "We hardly see them."
Another South L.A. residen, Murphy Ordell, 67, pointed to the trash-strewn sidewalks outside home at 20th and Central Avenue in South Central. He wants the next mayor to focus on clearning up the streets and sidewalks. "It's just nasty," he said.
Former Congresswoman Diane Watson, who used to represent South L.A., said Garcetti and Greuel need to show leadership that local leaders can "attach themselves to." She's already asking Garcetti to intervene in a neighborhood fight over a Leimert Park gun store.
'We're a community, and the community needs to dig in and help," said Watson, who isn't endorsing in the race. "But we need the leadership."
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