L.A. City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa and incumbent Mayor James Hahn were the top two vote getters in the mayoral primary, setting the stage for a rematch of their 2001 runoff contest.

Villaraigosa raked in 33.1 percent of the vote. Hahn was second with 23.7 percent, to squeak into the May 17 runoff. Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg narrowly missed the cut with 22.2 percent, about 5,800 votes behind Hahn.

Hertzberg conceded defeat Wednesday morning, saying he didn't believe he could make up the gap with about 24,000 uncounted absentee votes and provisional ballots outstanding. His role now turns into power broker; his endorsement could help tip the scales in the runoff toward either remaining candidate.

Hertzberg said he would take a couple days to decide which remaining candidate to endorse, if any. Villaraigosa is a former close frend and political ally; the two have been cordial to each other on the campaign trail but there is still residue left from a falling-out. Hertzberg shares a more natural constituency with Hahn, who captured support from voters in the San Fernando Valley in his first mayoral run.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Hahn said he was willing to sit down and talk with Hertzberg, despite the personal barbs the two exchanged during the primary campaign. All that was in the past, Hahn said: "This isn't personal at all. I told Bob last night that he ran a great campaign."

A Hertzberg endorsement could help Hahn woo back many Valley voters upset with his campaign against secession. "Every day is a new day," Hahn said when asked about whether Valley voters still harbored resentment towards him.

At his own campaign event, Villaraigosa said he will give Hertzberg, fourth-place finisher and Councilman Bernard Parks and State Sen. Richard Alarc & #243;n, who finished far behind the others, "some breathing room" before seeking out their endorsements.

Both sides appeared to be bracing for the possibility of a highly negative runoff campaign.

Hahn will air an intense television ad campaign that both stresses his record and draws "comparisons" between him and Villaraigosa, said Hahn campaign consultant Kam Kuwata.

Hahn declined to rule out using attack ads like the one his campaign used to devastating effect against Villaraigosa four years ago. That ad focused on Villaraigosa's letter to then-President Bill Clinton seeking a pardon for a convicted drug dealer. "This is going to be a dynamic campaign and I don't know what the ads will be," he said.

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