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
II. Saturday in the Hood With Tony and Jim
Within L.A.‘s African-American community, meanwhile, the contest for mayor has achieved an intensity that few predicted. Last Saturday, Hahn and Villaraigosa showed up at Crenshaw High for the campaign’s liveliest debate, before an all-black assemblage composed in good measure of rival claques come to cheer their guy and hoot the other. When it was done, the crowd had clearly emerged as the winner, with Villaraigosa a close second and Hahn a distant third.
Faced squarely with the challenge of allaying African-American anxiety over his candidacy, the former speaker was both impassioned and effective. After recounting his efforts, at age 15, to help organize the Black Student Union at Cathedral High, and to found the city‘s Black-Latino Roundtable 15 years later, Villaraigosa asserted, “I stand here because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I stand here because people died for my right to be here.” From King to Bradley to Villaraigosa; it was a masterful allusion to the meaning, and the logical progression, of civil rights in America.
The chief bone of contention in the debate -- Hahn made sure of that -- was the case for gang injunctions. He argued for a range of preventive strategies (after-school programs, job training and such), but insisted that injunctions were nonetheless necessary -- that they “give communities an opportunity to breathe,” he said to a burst of applause. For his part, Villaraigosa actually favors the same two-legged approach, but his emphasis is often reversed. “It’s not just about gang injunctions; it‘s about investing in our children,” he told a pre-debate rally at his Crenshaw campaign office. “I want to live in a city where we look at young people not as ’the other,‘ but as people we value and invest in.”
These differences in approach are reflected in the candidates’ supporters -- a rift that‘s easy to ascertain, what with the two campaigns’ South-Central headquarters occupying opposite corners of the intersection of Crenshaw and Coliseum. Inside the Hahn headquarters, an hour or so after the debate had ended, Dr. Perry Crouch, who works with at-risk youth in Watts, was fairly blazing at Villaraigosa. Prefacing his comments by noting that eight members of his family had been killed by drugs, he argued that “Gang injunctions are so we can go to the store, so we can cut down on the negative activity, if our youth are out there terrorizing and raping and carjacking and killing.” But across the intersection in the Villaraigosa headquarters, Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope -- who himself has worked on gang truces and helping former gang members (of which he‘s one) go straight -- disagreed. “The O.G.s [the original gangsters, the older members] just recruit younger kids to get around them [the injunctions]. What I love about Antonio is, he knows it’s not just injunctions; it‘s prevention.”
Ali is 35 -- a generation younger than Crouch -- and he positions himself smack in the middle of a generational divide. “Every Hahn supporter I talk to under 35, I’ve managed to swing their vote,” he said. “Over 35 . . .” His voice trails off. Hahn‘s leading African-American endorsers, as I noted two weeks ago, are a generation older than Villaraigosa’s big-name backers, and this generation gap is also apparent in a tour of the two headquarters. Both candidates have older volunteers, but the lion‘s share of the younger ones are on Villaraigosa’s side of the street. Much of Villaraigosa‘s South-Central canvass, for that matter, is specifically directed at voters under 40.
III. Sunday in Loveland with Antonio
Ali was hardly the only Villaraigosa backer using the “L-word” last weekend. “I love this man,” state Senator Sheila Kuehl told a crowd of 250 similarly inclined Antonio-istas at a fund-raiser Sunday in Brentwood. “This is the only straight guy in the gay parade.”
For the various distinct but sometimes overlapping progressive communities of Los Angeles -- Brentwood civil libertarians, Echo Park enviros, the janitors of Sylmar and Boyle Heights -- the Villaraigosa campaign is culminating in a paroxysm of activity, anticipation and affection. On Sunday, between speeches in churches and a synagogue, Villaraigosa made it to at least six events -- including three fund-raisers -- stretching from Chatsworth to Mount Washington. The venues differed, but at each was a core of activists who’d known him for a decade -- or two, or three -- as someone they‘d worked alongside in the cause of immigrant workers or police accountability or better racial relations. “I met Antonio when he walked into my office one night at 3 a.m.,” Connie Rice, the city’s leading civil rights attorney, told the crowd at the Brentwood gathering. “The next morning, we were scheduled to file a suit on behalf of the Bus Riders Union, but we still needed an intervenor to enable us to file. I said, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘I’m Antonio Villaraigosa, Gloria Molina‘s deputy on the MTA board, and I’m here to help you file your suit.‘”
“I don’t endorse politicians; I sue them,” said Rice. Then she endorsed Villaraigosa.