By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The elder Hahn would come under widespread criticism from black leaders for defending Gates, and significant challenges to what would have been his 10th re-election began to emerge. Kenneth Hahn waved off the criticism and impending opposition as a factor in his decision whether to run again. Nevertheless, that fall he opted to retire. His son had already come to the conclusion that he would have to put his own political ambitions on hold.
For Jim Hahn to run for mayor in 1993 would have meant having to give up the City Attorney's Office. By the end of May '91, Hahn-the-younger publicly acknowledged his mayoral prospects had dimmed. "I am very close to absolutely ruling it out," he told the press. "I think the turmoil in City Hall damages all of the people in City Hall, including myself, in the eyes of the public."
By 1996, the scene and climate had changed. Once again facing re-election, Hahn tried to mend fences with his African-American political base by backing a black police chief against the designs of a white mayor. In spite of certain criticism from a Police Commission beholden to Richard Riordan, Hahn endorsed a second term for Gates' woefully inadequate successor, Willie Williams. With African-American voters strongly supporting Williams, and whites indifferent, Hahn figured that an unusual public endorsement would be a winner -- now he could be pro-police and pro-black at the same time. But in so doing he undermined his excuse for not having opposed Gates five years previous.
Riordan and the remade commission intended to replace the ineffectual Williams, which the amended charter now facilitated. But Hahn's endorsement once again meant that the city attorney could not legally represent the commission in the event Williams opted to sue, which he did. Police commissioners blasted Hahn for forcing the commission to incur the expense of hiring private counsel and encouraging the Williams lawsuit, however inadvertently in this case. "I think it's egregious. I think it compromises the whole office, and I can't believe he did it," said Police Commissioner Art Mattox.
SOME COULD SEE CLEARLY THE DISASTER awaiting the city if Gates were allowed to stay on as chief. Representative Maxine Waters asked, "What if the people of South-Central realize that they cannot remove Daryl Gates? I think the result could be very dangerous." In 1991 Urban League President John Mack went further: "The temperature in the community is high. If something is not done, it could invite some people to resort to socially unacceptable tactics. If all hell breaks loose, we place the blame at the doorstep of the leadership of this city."
A year later, of course, all hell did break loose. Gates would act so ineffectually as the rioting began -- remaining at a Westside fund-raiser against the proposed charter amendment on police reform -- that the whole city would turn against him.
As city attorney, Hahn knew as well as anyone of the LAPD's potentially explosive problems of misconduct and excessive use of force. His office was losing or settling big civilian lawsuits, and the costs were steadily mounting. The city had paid out less than a $1 million in 1980, but by 1990, the year before Rodney King, the figure had climbed to more than $11 million. Gates blamed "a lottery mentality among juries," although the biggest cases, such as the notorious 1988 Dalton Avenue raid, were settled out of court by the city attorney. At Dalton, nearly 90 police officers raided two apartment buildings in Southwest Los Angeles looking for drugs. They trashed the buildings in much the same way vandals would, destroying walls, furniture, family photos and even leaving graffiti: "LAPD Rules," "Rollin' 30s Die." No one was charged with a crime, and less than 6 ounces of marijuana and an ounce of cocaine were found. Later Hahn would testify to the Christopher Commission that the LAPD was not "out of control."
New York University law professor Jerome Skolnick, co-author of Above the Law: Police and the Excessive Use of Force, said it was clear even before the King beating that at least "parts of the department were out of control." "Dalton was a precursor," Skolnick recently told the Times. "It should have sent a signal . . . The next signal was obviously the beating of Rodney King."
Hahn could have demonstrated leadership on police issues both well before and immediately after the King beating. But he would not dare risk the chief's ire. Nor any chief's ire. The one consistent thing about Hahn is that he never takes on the chief of police. Not Parks after Rampart. Not Williams for his lackluster leadership. And certainly not Gates after Rodney King. The city's politics and racial configurations change -- as do Hahn's immediate political goals -- and with them the considerations behind defending or criticizing the police chief. Hahn updates his calculations each election cycle; they have just happened to come out the same way each time: Don't take on the chief. The calculus varies from year to year, but it is invariably political.LA