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Jim Hahn’s L.A. 

Waiting for the new status quo at City Hall

Wednesday, Jul 11 2001
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Big questions left standing after the somewhat anal city inaugural ceremonies last week: What‘s Jim Hahn going to be like in office? What will his new administration look like? The insider consensus is that Hahn’s first official speech was long on generalities, short on assuring specifics.

”Everything right now is in free fall,“ said one council aide. ”A new council, new controller, new city attorney, new mayor; there‘s never been this much change in this city in so short a time.“ It sure feels like that. That’s why City Hall people, including yours truly, are so eagerly seeking signs, portents, omens.

The changeover confusion is doubled because, just as the government regroups for the new term, the city administration is also moving back into the old City Hall. Where, it turns out, someone forgot to get analog phone lines re-installed after quake renovations deleted them. Even a the ”new“ Mayor‘s Office had no direct phone service when I tried to call, and everyone in the council chamber was passing around cell numbers. The place itself looks fresh, terrific: like 1928. And, to those who knew it well, familiar: Whatever did L.A. do to deserve this wonderful, echoing Carolingian interior, stuffed inside the veneered white tower that the late architecthistorian Charles Moore described as ”great Deco, but mediocre architecture“?

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But there are still lots of places where you aren’t supposed to go. Some of these are clearly marked, and some you find out about by opening a familiar door whose other side someone is trying to paint. It‘s disorienting.

So I was drawn to the figure of Mayor James Hahn, spotted leaving the council chamber among a clutch of TV reporters. One of whom, the outspoken Laurel Erickson of Channel 4, was scolding Hahn and a staffer about access. It turned out that during the inauguration, Hahn had been mobbed at the rostrum by well-wishers. But Hahn’s security had refused to admit the TV people to the area. Talk about creating a problem.

”We couldn‘t get up to the stage to take a picture of him as a human being,“ Erickson complained to veteran Hahn aide Kam Kuwata as Hahn exited the scene toward his office. At about this point, my note taking skidded to a stop, because someone had suddenly grabbed me by the shoulder and propelled me backward about a yard. The propellant, a tall, thin man in tweeds, identified himself as an LAPD officer. I in turn identified myself as a reporter and went right back to what I had been doing. But later I wondered if this was perhaps a new Hahn policy: to keep people with note pads away from the mayor unless they have a proven, professional need to be there. And of course I wondered a little about what this kind of skittishness -- or plain interference -- had to do with free speech, the First Amendment and whatnot. As well, of course, with the worthy project of capturing a picture of Hahn ”as a human being.“

Hahn certainly needn’t be this shy. He has advantages going in the door that no other new mayor in memory has shared. He‘s got Alex Padilla, his own close ally, running the City Council, sharing control over personnel matters, and selecting committee chairs who will almost certainly be both Hahn-friendly and friendly to the new Hahn commission appointees they will encounter in the line of business. He’s got a solid majority of council members behind him. And he has good relationships with the current school board. Not to mention the Board of Supervisors, most of whose members reckon him -- literally, considering his late father‘s unequaled standing as a supervisor -- the county’s favorite son.

Had Antonio Villaraigosa been elected, all these areas of accord might have become fighting fronts. Certainly, the best that Tom Bradley and Dick Riordan got from the late John Ferraro‘s council presidency was wary indifference. Riordan fought the county and had to elect his own school board. Yes, compared to his predecessors, Mayor Jim’s got a clear track. Perhaps it‘s about time that he gave the rest of us a better idea where he’s headed.

Notes From

the Big Changeover

Watching the new council members settle down to business in the resurrected old City Hall last week, I couldn‘t help but recall the words of 5th District City Councilman B.B. Brainard on the day he was sworn in.

If you can’t remember him, don‘t worry. Brainard held office back when City Hall was nearly new, when council members had two-year terms and the 5th District bordered on USC and didn’t include UCLA. When Brainard was installed in 1933, in the same old wooden horseshoe (now realigned to face the audience) at which this year‘s crop of members sit, the newcomers’ desks were piled high with lush floral tributes, ”from my friends and from those who wished me to think of them as my friends,“ Brainard noted.

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