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Crunch Time 

The race to succeed Richard Riordan — and to reshape Los Angeles — comes down to the wire

Wednesday, Mar 21 2001
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Page 4 of 10

But it‘s Villaraigosa who is actually trying, and very consciously, to do in this campaign what Bradley did in 1973. Bradley’s strategy was to put together a citywide coalition, rooted in the black community, but extending outward to include the largely Jewish Westside and liberals everywhere. In a sense, his campaign was the culmination of a decade of black and Jewish involvement in the cause of civil rights. Villaraigosa‘s coalition, correspondingly, begins with the Latino vote, and radiates outward to include the liberals, the unionists, the enviros -- all the faces of progressive L.A. As Bradley relied on a vibrant Democratic-club movement to provide him with foot soldiers, so Villaraigosa relies on the institutions of the Latino-labor alliance to put him over the top.

The Bradley-Villaraigosa parallel runs deeper than mere strategy, however. In winning election, Bradley established the model for the black-led urban coalitions that dominated American cities for the next two decades, which deepened the Democratic Party’s commitment to civil rights and social-welfare programs. If he wins, Villaraigosa would establish the model for the next generation of urban coalitions, Latino- and immigrant-led, and championing the cause of economic equity, of justice -- decent pay, affordable housing, better schools -- for the working poor. Come what may, that coalition will begin to take hold in America‘s megacities over the next 10 or 15 years; a Villaraigosa victory would hasten that day.

Voters, of course, don’t base their votes on historical epochs, but on the candidates‘ records, positions, affiliations, race and, well, vibrations. (We can say that in L.A.) Herewith, a quick look at them all.

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III. Kenny’s Boy

On a Sunday morning in mid-March, James Kenneth Hahn, for 16 years the Los Angeles city attorney, and for the four years before that the city controller, is making the obligatory rounds at black churches. And making them fast; he actually leaves the Union Baptist Church, a venerable congregation in the center of Watts, a full half-hour before his press schedule says he is to arrive.

Talk to the parishioners and the pastor, however, and it‘s not clear which Hahn actually came calling. “Jim Hahn?” says one woman, decked out in her Sunday finery. “Oh, you mean Kenny Hahn’s son!”

And so it goes, one after another congregant discussing only Hahn‘s son-ness, until I reach the Rev. Milton Marshall Sr., pastor at Union Baptist for the past 53 years. “So, Hahn was here,” I begin.

“Oh, Lord,” says Marshall, “he came here for every election!”

“Jim Hahn?”

“His father! I knew him all those years! [The late Kenny Hahn was first elected supervisor in 1952.] He was one of the best we ever had. Ain’t nobody can replace him, though that woman [Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, his successor as supervisor] is doing a fine job. He was unbeatable! He‘s still living, you know, still living in this world!”

I’m not sure if this is a reference to the elder Hahn‘s good works generally, or to such tangible legacies as the 911 call boxes he got installed on freeways. But the question is: How is his son, also still living in this world, faring?

“I knew his son when he was a little boy,” Marshall answers. “He followed his dad around at election time. I introduced him today as Kenneth Hahn’s son, and everyone clapped.”

A lesser campaign might view Jim Hahn‘s unbearable lightness of being as a weakness, but the consummate pros running him for mayor have converted it into a strength: In black L.A., Hahn’s calling card is his father‘s good name.

Hahn is a tribune for the African-American community in one other, unfortunate particular: Alone among the mayoral candidates, he remains largely supportive of a Police Chief Bernard Parks. The chief, he told the Weekly, is “a man of integrity, fearless in rooting out police corruption, who fired more officers than the last two chiefs combined.” Parks will have to enact genuine reform, Hahn adds, but he’s more hopeful than most that Parks will be up to this task. (One of the oddities of this election is that the black community‘s historical emphasis on police reform -- a major factor enabling such mayoral candidates as Bradley and Mike Woo to amass huge black majorities -- is nowhere in evidence now that the chief is black and the victims of the latest spate of police violence are largely Latino.)

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