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
Another major piece of the campaign are the churches — still a major, if not the major, player in African-American politics. A large number of black clergy, among them a number of the most senior figures in their respective denominations (no generation gap here) came out for Villaraigosa on Monday. Hahn, of course, can claim the support of First AME’s Cecil “Chip” Murray and West Angeles’ Bishop Charles Blake. Now Villaraigosa has his own cohort of religious leaders — each of whom seemed determined at Monday’s event to convince their listeners that Villaraigosa’s candidacy was imbued with the same spirit of racial equity that had helped make Tom Bradley mayor.
The three leading clerics who spoke all trod across a tightrope — telling the black community that it had no moral claim to oppose the ascent of Latino civic leadership, while assuring it that Villaraigosa was devoted to governing in partnership with black Los Angeles. Dr. J. Benjamin Hardwick, who heads the Western Baptist State Convention, recalled how in the early meetings supporting Bradley’s candidacy, Latino Congressman Ed Roybal had offered his support. Bishop John Bryant of the AME Church talked about a family so big it had to eat its meals in two shifts, with the first group to sit down obliged to leave enough food for the second group, because “It’s all one big family.” The mealtime metaphor moved from one speaker to the next, as Bishop E. Lynn Brown of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church offered a booming assessment of Villaraigosa: “He is committed to have ALLLLLAngelenos at the table!”
For the historically minded, Monday’s event had one hugely ironic aspect. Among the various current and former elected officials on hand to endorse Villaraigosa, the two most senior were former Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally and former Assemblyman Willard Murray. Forty years ago, when Tom Bradley first ran for City Council, Dymally and Murray opposed him, as they did initially in his mayoral campaigns as well. At the time, Bradley was the darling of the liberal Democratic-club movement, and they supported more centrist Democrats aligned with then–Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh (whom they backed in the ’73 mayoral primary over Bradley). It’s taken four decades, but they’re now backing the candidate who came up through the city’s multiracial liberal institutions — the Bradley equivalent in this year’s race.
Ridley-Thomas has set himself a daunting task. In the April 10 primary, Jim Hahn pulled 70 percent of the vote in Ridley-Thomas’ 8th council district; it was far and away his strongest district in town. Now, Ridley-Thomas will try to cut Hahn’s margin down — much as council members Alex Padilla and Nick Pacheco, who’ve both endorsed Hahn, will try to dissuade their largely Latino constituents from voting for Villaraigosa in the runoff.
Just as Padilla and Pacheco have triggered a multiyear war in Latino L.A., so Ridley-Thomas’ commitment to Villaraigosa will widen a pre-existing rift within the African-American political community. Two years ago, Ridley-Thomas, Thigpenn, Bass and attorney Connie Rice (who’s also endorsed Villaraigosa) were key supporters in Genethia Hayes’ successful campaign to oust school board member Barbara Boudreaux. The more senior figures within the black electariat — Waters, Burke and Hahn himself (an honorary white member) — backed Boudreaux, but, aided by funding from the mayor, the younger generation promoting Hayes’ cause prevailed.
The coalition that’s now come together in black L.A. for Villaraigosa is much larger and more diverse than the one that backed Hayes. (Surveying the multidenominational gaggle of clergy on stage at Monday’s endorsement, one longtime activist shook her head and said, “Some of the people up there haven’t been in the same room in years.”) Aside from the Hayes campaign, however, the coalition’s other fledgling efforts have faltered. Two years ago, Ridley-Thomas was not able to build a big enough network of support for Reverend Madison Shockley’s unsuccessful challenge to council incumbent Nate Holden, and earlier this year, the coalition was unable to generate a candidate of its own to fill the seat vacated by Congressman Julian Dixon’s sudden death. Should the coalition now succeed in generating significant black support for Villaraigosa, however, it’s more likely that candidates backed by Ridley-Thomas, the County Fed and South-Central progressives will seek office two years hence when Holden and Ridley-Thomas are both termed out of their council seats.
And just what constitutes a significant level of black support for Villaraigosa? In the primary, the exit poll had him at 12 percent; a recent, post-primary KABC poll has the black community giving Hahn 74 percent support to Villaraigosa’s 20 percent. Thigpenn has set a goal of 30 percent support for Villaraigosa in the June 5 runoff, predicting it will come disproportionately from younger black voters. “There’s a realignment, a shift, going on within the community,” Thigpenn says. “This is potent. This is powerful.” If, despite the effects of the Hahn family name and the ministrations of Maxine Waters, it’s sufficient to help elect Villaraigosa, then it’s powerful indeed.