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Son of Sam 

Hahn goes out like Yorty; Villaraigosa, like Al Smith

Wednesday, May 30 2001
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The days dwindle down; the Hahn fear offensive ratchets up.

With the race for mayor in its final week, the image the Jim Hahn campaign wants to leave voters with is a crack-cocaine pipe being held up to a flame. This inflammatory imagery, followed by a grainy shot of Antonio Villaraigosa, provides the visuals for the ad that Hahn‘s campaign is carpet-bombing TV viewers with this week, attacking Villaraigosa for his letter on behalf of drug dealer Carlos Vignali.

And that’s not all. The Soboba Indians (who sound for all the world like an invention of W.C. Fields -- ”Ahhh, the Sobobas . . .“) have told the City Ethics Commission they‘re about to drop into the mail a couple hundred thousand attack pieces on Villaraigosa with the cheerful titles ”Child Pornography“ and ”Sex Crimes.“ Of course, the real crime that Villaraigosa committed, in the eyes of the Sobobas and the other casino-owning tribes who even now are contemplating joining the fray, was to have backed the right of casino employees to join a union.

Nor is Villaraigosa soft merely on crack cocaine, sex crimes and child pornography. Consider the strange case of the unsigned green sheet -- a plain green piece of paper, devoid of letterhead, that in various incarnations was plopped discreetly on my windshield, first at the candidates’ Crenshaw High debate a couple of weeks ago, and, again, outside a predominantly African-American church in Pacoima when Hahn spoke there this weekend. The Crenshaw green sheet accused Villaraigosa of failing to speak out ”against the systematic destruction of Black families“; in Pacoima, this was amended to ”Black and Brown families.“ Both versions lamented that the former speaker had declined to condemn the policy of ”incarcerating a crippling number of Black men.“ (In Pacoima, ”Brown men,“ too.)

In fact, Villaraigosa has spoken precisely against the incarceration of a generation of young men, as Hahn has not; he did so to a South-Central rally of several hundred people on the day of the Crenshaw debate. But to acknowledge that would muck up this leave-no-fingerprints attack piece directed at African-American voters. ”I hate it when they play the race card,“ Hahn supporter Jimmy Woods Gray sighed when she came across a stack of these sheets in the lobby of yet another Pacoima church that Hahn visited last Sunday. And yet, they‘re playing it with impunity.

In all these various Hahn communiques, one thing is missing: Hahn himself. He has become the invisible man in his own campaign. Hahn’s consultant, Bill Carrick, rightly notes that his candidate was all over his earlier advertising. Now, however, in the final week, when the campaign has $600,000 worth of ads up on TV, when it has become really serious about reaching the all-powerful undecideds, it is not exactly encouraging voters to contemplate the prospect of Jim Hahn as mayor.

And they‘re not -- even, or perhaps most especially, Hahn’s committed supporters. On Sunday, Hahn‘s tour of African-American churches in Pacoima reached its high point at the New Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, where he was elaborately serenaded by both pastor and choir. Then the pastor, Elder Andrae Crouch, brought Hahn to the pulpit with these words: ”A gentleman you know (you knew his father) seeks to lead this city -- our beloved brother, Kenneth Hahn.“ Just nine days before the election, the ghost of his father and the specter of his opponent remain more vivid, more corporeal, than the candidate himself.

Lest he fade away altogether, Hahn was accompanied on his churchly rounds this Sunday by Maxine Waters, who is not exactly the wallflower type. Waters’ support for Hahn, as she explained it to me, has a disarmingly maternal aspect. ”Hahn is the boy next door,“ she said. ”I helped guide his first campaign [in 1985] for city attorney. He wanted to save his money for the runoff; I told him to spend it, that he could win it in the primary. [He did.] He‘s a boy from the hood.“

While Hahn is a proven listener and advice taker, Villaraigosa is apparently some guy who blew into town -- on an ill wind -- just yesterday. When I asked Waters if Villaraigosa wasn’t closer to her position on criminal-justice issues than Hahn is, she quickly wrote the former speaker out of L.A. progressive politics. ”When was he president of the ACLU?“ she demanded to know. (1993.) ”I don‘t remember Antonio Villaraigosa there. I remember Stanley Sheinbaum and Ramona Ripston, not Villaraigosa. He was not in the Bradley campaigns, the Hahn campaigns, the Waters campaigns. Six years [the length of Villaraigosa’s term-limited tenure in the state Assembly] is a flash in the pan. I don‘t know him.“

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