By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
This preference for an industrial-strength transit system (which county voters, by passing Yaroslavsky's subway-killing initiative last year, plainly have doubts about), coupled with Hahn's political roots in black L.A., make the city attorney something of the neo-Bradley in the race. An L.A. subway was an integral part of Tom Bradley's vision for the L.A. of the future; Hahn seems intent on keeping it alive in the L.A. of the present. Should he end up running off against Yaroslavsky, voters certainly will be provided with a clear choice of options.
While Hahn is widely regarded as the front-runner, there are a number of political observers around town who question that judgment. The black vote in L.A. isn't what it was during Tom Bradley's heyday, since the share of the city that's African-American has been declining for years. In the last mayoral election, blacks constituted just 14 percent of the total turnout. Similarly, the building-trades unions that were the centerpiece of Bradley's labor support -- and for whom subway construction is ipso facto a happy notion -- have taken a back seat in the local labor movement to fast-growing service-sector unions with different priorities. The problem with being the neo-Bradley is that the core of the old Bradley constituency ain't what it used to be.
Assuming that Hahn will likely make the runoff, ã his opponent will be someone whose roots are either on the Westside or in the Valley or in the Latino community. Hahn will then have to compete for the other part of that equation -- for the Latino vote if his opponent is a Wachs or a Yaroslavsky, for the Valley if he's running against a Villaraigosa. Neither scenario is a cakewalk.
III. WESTSIDE AND VALLEY
IN PAST ELECTIONS, THE WESTSIDE AND VALLEY COULDN'T really be lumped together; they generated separate candidates with widely differing appeals. The Valley was the bastion of L.A. conservatism -- Sam Yorty's stronghold against the forces that Tom Bradley represented -- while Bradley claimed the Westside as his own.
But the Yorty constituency has long since moved on, or out. With the decline of the local aerospace industry over the past decade, L.A.'s working-class and lower-middle-class white populations have been substantially reduced. While there are still major Westside/Valley divisions visible in such things as the vote on 1994's immigrant-bashing Proposition 187 (the Valley passed it; the Westside didn't), this year a number of candidates will compete furiously in round one for the voters in both those regions. Soboroff and Wachs, perhaps Yaroslavsky and others, will be sending the bulk of their mailings both west and north.
The only Republican in the field is businessman Steve Soboroff, who has the backing of the mayor but not of all the mayor's men, and most especially not that of mayoral consigliere Bill Wardlaw. Soboroff is the latest in a string of Riordan can-do guys -- and unlike Riordan's previous one-year wizards, Mike Keeley and Ted Stein, Soboroff has managed to get things done without stretching the boundaries of accepted city practice. As chair of the oversight committee charged by Proposition BB with building new schools and patching up the old ones, and as president of Rec and Parks, Soboroff wins generally high marks for his energy, openness and affability from many co-workers. David Abel, a longtime Yaroslavsky confidant, calls Soboroff, with whom he serves on the Prop. BB Committee, "a mensch, who's great with people, who respects the public sector and is open to the private sector."
Soboroff is a private-sector guy, of course. After an apprenticeship as a gofer for legendary L.A. developer Ben Weingart, Soboroff grew rich by locating the sites and arranging the deals for such chains as Target and Circuit City; he also owns commercial real estate in Santa Monica.
If Soboroff learned the art of the deal from Weingart, he seems to have picked up a share of his chutzpah as well. "I know people at schools and parks all over town," he tells me over a breakfast in Studio City. "They know me better than they know Jim or Antonio." He further assures me that "Zev won't run: He thinks I'll take too many votes from him."
"Soboroff," says one associate who's known him for years, "is a very nice man, but he doesn't have the temperament to be a good candidate or a good mayor. He's too thin-skinned. Impulsive. Hot-tempered. Volatile."
He's certainly been known to shoot from the lip. In the course of our breakfast, he is explaining the reforms that would help the beleaguered Los Angeles public schools, and suddenly veers into a discussion of vouchers. "They would make LAUSD smaller [by enabling more students to attend private or parochial schools]," he says. "They may pose a problem in the long run, but in the short run the district is in crisis, and whatever can make the district smaller is a good thing."
It is certainly one of the more idiosyncratic cases ever made for school vouchers -- so idiosyncratic that Soboroff calls me some weeks later to retract the statement. "The more I think about [vouchers]," he says, "the less I like them. I don't think they're the right way to go."
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