The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported exit polls revealed Nir Barkat, city council member and businessman, held a several-point advantage over Orthodox Rabbi Meir Porush. Arcadi Gaydamak, a wealthy Russian-Israeli businessman, was reportedly running a distant third.
Porush had been expected to succeed Uri Lupolianksi, who is seen as more moderate on secular matters.
In Tel Aviv, incumbent Ron Huldai took an early lead over Hadash Knesset Member Dov Henin -- 48 percent to 33 percent with about one-third of the votes counted, The Jersusalem Post reported. Despite the wide margin, it was considered uncertain who would win, the newspaper said.
The Post said the Jewish population largely avoided the polls Tuesday, while Arab voters turned out in large numbers to decide local governments in 159 cities, towns and local councils for the next five years. The Interior Ministry said total voter turnout was just over 42 percent, a drop of 17 percentage points from 2003.