by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
June 6, 2001
HAHN TIDE SWEEPS AWAY HOPE OF LATINO MAYOR FOR L.A.
LOS ANGELES, July 6, 2001, 6:00am (PST) -- Many, many months ago, when the election that concluded today for Mayor of Los Angeles was still two years ahead, the smart money and the inside people at City Hall East - the modern building where city government has waited out a $350 million rehab of L.A.'s famed City Hall, just across Spring St. - put their money on tall, affable City Attorney James Hahn, the scion of a political dynasty that has enjoyed popular support in this city for half a century. This morning, two years and $13 million later, Hahn is Mayor-elect.
The newly-restored City Hall is scheduled to re-open by July 1, when Hahn will be sworn in. And other than that, there's not much new in Los Angeles politics.
The prospect of the city with the nation's largest percentage of Hispanic residents being led by a Latino, Antonio Villaraigosa, a high school dropout turned political wizard and coalition builder, was not to be. Judging from the tone of a heartfelt concession speech by the voluble Villaraigosa, though, his six years in the public eye are likely prelude to thirty more.
And judging from the tone of Mayor-elect Hahn's remarks - which came too early to be a victory speech, but nonetheless too late for Villaraigosa to catch up - the city's future is not in doubt.
Claiming the mantle of coalition builder for himself, Hahn told thousands of supporters at the Westin Bonaventure he had drawn support across all ethnic groups; indeed, Villaraigosa had built a grand coalition of special interests that ranged from real estate and grocery-story billionaires to the AFL-CIO, Democratic Party, ACLU liberals and the powerful state teacher's union, and won the coveted endorsements of the Los Angeles Times and Republican incumbent Mayor Richard Riordan, but may have fallen short on just plain people.
Even with the Times' polling machinery showing a 50-50 "dead heat" in exit polls, Hahn started off with a strong lead in absentee ballots and saw it build from about 18,000 votes to 40,000 votes as the night progressed.
With 100 percent of the regular ballots counted (and about 19,000 absentee ballots and provisional or challenged city ballots still uncounted), Hahn's 293,273 votes led Villaraigosa's 254,491 by 53.54 percent to 46.46 percent. That 7.08 percent was extremely close to the 7 percent the Times' pollsters predicted late last week.
Since both men are liberal Democrats, the change of administrations will likely not mean any dramatic change in circumstances for the city. Indeed, Hahn's election is probably as much due to voters' understanding of him as a steady, plain-spoken and relatively cautious soul as to the highly-charged negative attack ads that used grainy images of drugs and Villaraigosa to pound away at the latter's image as a charming, energetic, and innovative candidate of "hope."
It was never clear precisely what hope Villaraigosa stood for except his own election, which certainly would have symbolized the surging strength of Latino voters here. But in many ways, Villaraigosa was defeated by Latino politicians who surrounded Hahn Tuesday night as the vote count rolled in.
Latino council members and state legislators, later to be replaced by more familiar faces from the city's black leadership including basketball great Magic Johnson, spoke earnestly of Hahn as their candidate in a race that yet seemed very much to test their own power against the former white Establishment.
Their Latino leaders' defection to Hahn is the result of a long-running feud that has riven the city's East Side for more than a decade as two Latino political machines have battled each other. Yet the defectors are unlikely to be on the winning side in Latino voters' minds when they wake up Wednesday morning. While the well-liked Hahn is not going to be the object of much anger despite the attack ads, the resentment of their support for the Mayor-elect could compromise all of their political futures for many elections to come.
If anything, the election demonstrated that in fact there is no Establishment: There is the Hahn family, and there is the Hahn family. Several years ago an unknown clerk managed to get elected Assessor only because his name was Kenneth Hahn, the same as James Hahn's father. One observer on election night in the City Council chambers, where the vote tallies were announced by City Clerk Michael Carey in a series of 11 bulletins - the last of them at 1:28 a.m. - noted that many voters who were asked who they voted for as they left the polls responded "Kenneth Hahn."
Hahn was on the ballot as James Kenneth Hahn, and he frequently invoked the name of his beloved father, a public official here for 40 years, as the campaign progressed. In his comments at tonight's victory party, the real heir to the Hahn name summoned his father's memory again in regretting that he could not be there to stand with him at the pinnacle of his family's many achievements. It was a touching moment, and a human one - and that was always the Hahn approach.
At the block-long L.A. Center Studios, where supporters heard Villaraigosa concede after just 55 percent of the vote had been counted, the candidate heard supporters cheer "You are the future" as he described Los Angeles as a "great city" with "great people" and a "great future."
Asking for just a minute to say something on his mind, he spoke of the beacon of "Mother Liberty" in the Port of New York as earlier immigrants came, noting that "now the New Yorkers have come here." In a voice that was hoarsened by speaking for 42 of the last 48 hours on 39 "campaign visits," he said the greatness of Los Angeles is its diversity. But Los Angeles, diverse as it is, was not ready to elect him mayor last night.
Villaraigosa reportedly has $1.8 million in the bank to run for the State Senate two years from now, however, and there would be few takers to bet against the prospect him of him becoming the first person to serve some day as both Speaker of the State Assembly and President of the State Senate.
In the most surprising upset of the night, veteran state senator and longtime leftist firebrand Tom Hayden was narrowly defeated for a city council seat representing the city's affluent Westside and part of the San Fernando Valley.
With 100 percent of the precincts counted, Hayden, the founder of Students for a Democratic Society and one of the Chicago Seven defendants accused of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, was trailing former federal prosecutor Jack Weiss by 289 votes.
Hayden trailed Weiss all evening but was closer than ever at the finish, indicating that there may yet be hope he will pull off a victory when all the absentee and provisional ballots are counted over the next two weeks. [Hayden did not concede.]
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, who gained national prominence as an Asian-American legislator when he called for the resignation of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates in 1992 and then ran ahead of Riordan until the last weeks of the 1993 mayoral race, lost to the son of former Los Angeles District Atty. Gil Garcetti - himself defeated in April after voter dissatisfaction with the conduct of the O.J. Simpson and other trials - by 1,066 votes in the 13th Councilmanic District, which includes most of Hollywood and the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles.
With 100 percent of the votes in, Garcetti's 14,654, or 51.89 percent, led Woo's 13,588, or 48.11 percent. That seat had been left vacant since January by the election of Woo's successor, Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, to the State Assembly.
Garcetti, a handsome, razor-slim, 30-year-old college professor who earlier held a key post in Amnesty International, defeated Woo in the April 10 primary by less than 200 votes. Police Protective League union director Dennis Zine eked out a 132-vote victory over onetime council and mayoral aide Judith Hirshberg, possibly tipping the balance of the new City Council toward implementation of a controversial three-day, 36-hr. work week for LAPD officers that also has the support of Mayor-elect Hahn. Zine is likely to team with several Valley conservatives to tip the liberal balance of the council on many issues. [Hirshberg declined to concede, however.]
Hahn's sister, Janice Hahn - now chairman of the city's Board of Information Technology Commissioners, which oversees cable contracts - was also elected to the council representing the Harbor Area, an enclave that is nearly an hour from downtown and connected to the rest of the city by a slender line on boundary maps the width of the 110 Freeway. Both Hahns currently reside in San Pedro where, ironically. support for secession is stronger than anywhere else in the city. Janice Hahn, in fact, favors secession of most of her council district from the rest of Los Angeles. She defeated newcomer Hector Cepeda 18,410 to 13,990, a margin of 13.64 percent.
The major upset of the evening saw Deputy Mayor Rockard Delgadillo defeat City Councilman Michael Feuer for the post of City Attorney. A strong advocate of gun control and environmental activist, Feuer boasted earlier in the evening that everything was going exactly as foreseen by his advisors - the same firm, headed by strategist Parke Skelton, that advised Villaraigosa - but ended up trailing badly.
Delgadillo got more than $460,000 in in-kind advertising help from billboard companies opposed a plan by Feuer to scrap many of them. With all precincts reporting, Delgadillo led Feuer 273,834 to 248,431, or 52.43 percent to 47.57 percent.
The lawyer and Riordan aide was the only one of the few candidates endorsed by the popular Riordan to win. In a Board of Education race, the mayor once backed incumbent Valerie Fields, but in early 2001 switched to supporting newcomer Marlene Canter, who on Tuesday outpolled Fields with 68,194, or 54.08 percent of the vote, to 57,907, or 45.92 percent.
Riordan, now 71, has been actively contemplating a race for governor against Democrat Gov. Gray Davis, who has been weakened by the state's well-publicized energy woes. Still, some well-attuned and independent observers don't believe the mayor will run, and couldn't win if he did.
In the only other contested City Council seat, former council aide Jan Perry defeated two-term State Assemblyman Carl Washington in the 9th District, representing downtown Los Angeles, by 11,736 to 8,774, or 57.22 percent to 42.78 percent.
In a race for the seat held by former Rep. Julian Dixon, former State Sen. Diane Watson was elected by a resounding margin over a Republican mother of six, Noel Irwin Hentschel. The race that also included the Reform Party's 2000 vice-presidential candidate Ezola Foster, who earned only 1,512 votes, or 1.56 percent. Watson defeated Henschel by 72,955, or 74.80 percent, to 19,493, or 19.69 percent.
In the only other race on the ballot, for Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, Nancy Pearlman defeated Samuel J. "Joey" Hill by 326,248 to 194,783, or 62.61 percent to 37.39 percent. Pearlman was the largest single vote-getter of the evening, but not all of the community college district's voters are within the city of Los Angeles.
As reporters gathered up the bulletins and trooped away shortly before 2 a.m., descending from the council chambers to the deserted streets of downtown Los Angeles, the last hurrah had long ago been hurled into the dark.