Update Wednesday morning: Unofficial vote totals show Gil Cedillo failed to break the 50 percent needed to beat Jose Gardea, setting up a dramatic Eastside showdown between the two very different men at the May 21 runoff.

Gil Cedillo and his wealthy union backers must be wishing the dial would move just a touch more, as midnight approaches and he remains just shy of winning City Council District 1 outright against Jose Gardea, who is putting up a lively fight with 78 percent of the vote counted.

Cedillo has 48.43 percent but needs at least 50 percent to win without a runoff. He's got 5,481 votes — in an Eastside City Council District with some 260,000 souls.

Those numbers starkly illustrate how few people in L.A. make the big political decisions for everyone else. Gardea has 4,988 votes or 44.07 percent. The distant third-place candidate is Jesse Rosas with just 848 votes, good enough for 7.49 percent.

Cedillo could be said to be the personality in this race, while Gardea is the jargon-flinging bureaucrat.

On the other hand, Gardea — as chief of staff to outgoing City Councilman Ed Reyes — has more independence from wealthy special interests to whom Cedillo has over the years grown indebted, both from his long stint in Sacramento and his pre-politician 1990s job as general manager of the Service Employees International Union.

To give a flavor of Gardea's ultra-wonky thinking, he recently answered a KPCC public radio questionnaire about the worst problems facing heavily Latino, working-class District 1.

In his answers Gardea did not directly mention the people who struggle to live in this extremely congested, extremely dense, low home-ownership area.

Thumbnail image for Jose Gardea by korean Resource Center.jpg

Jose Gardea

District 1 residents earn the third-lowest wages in Los Angeles.

Gardea does not discuss, for example, the outsized impact on District 1 of Antonio Villaraigosa's, and the City Council's, 2008 doubling of the “city vehicle release” fee on towed cars to $100 (to help make up the budget deficit), steep $73 ticket for failing to move a car on street-sweeping day (same reason) and $63 overdue meter parking tickets (same reason). Those charges put L.A. well above many far richer cities.

L.A. residents not lucky enough to have a garage — those million or so who fight for a space to park each night — abound in District 1. The city's spiraling charges have hit there hard, according to residents. Not so bad in, say, Brentwood.

Gardea answered the “worst problems” question from the bureaucracy's point of view:

The most pressing issues facing the district, as well as the City, are 1) delivery of core city services with reduced general fund resources, 2) the lack of a coordinated economic development strategy to promote jobs in this City, and 3) the prioritization of core city functions in the budget process.

My policy priorities will be to focus on constituent services, the creation of affordable housing, including workforce housing, and sustainable land use policies that encourage economic development and job creation.

But Gardea still managed to one-up Gil Cedillo. Cedillo didn't answer the radio station's questions at all.

Cedillo is best known for his many attempts to pass laws in Sacramento granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

He's been in Sacramento for 15 years, a period in which the public has all but condemned the lobbying, secrecy and big money that drive how statehouse business is conducted and which laws are approved in the capitol.

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