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
There is a broader political context to the demands of the Latino and black communities. The Latino community is ascending to a level of political (though clearly not social or economic) parity with the city's white population, and having a school superintendent or police chief who's Latino is a mark of that ascendancy. The black community, by contrast, is, in relative terms, shrinking, and its political clout diminishing accordingly. After two decades in which the city's dominant political coalition was the alliance of blacks, Jews and other liberals that Tom Bradley had cobbled together, the ascending (though not yet ascendant) alliance that emerged in the last mayoral election was that of Latinos, Jews and other (largely nonblack) liberals that Antonio Villaraigosa had assembled. The appointment of a new African-American police chief, then, would not only signal a continuing civic commitment to reducing the LAPD's antagonism to blacks, but also deliver a loud message that black L.A. still retains some political clout.
IT IS JIM HAHN'S MISFORTUNE THAT HE also must make his choice at the very moment when the Valleywhites have reached the apex of their own identity politics. Secession is likely to lose citywide, and I wouldn't bet the mortgage that it will even carry in the Valley, but it almost certainly will win majority support among the Valley's white voters. Hahn's foremost purpose between now and Election Day must be to do all he can to keep the city unsundered. A choice for chief that would alienate the Valley now is obviously off the table. But what kind of choice would do that? The Valley conservatives at the heart of the secessionist movement would doubtless like a chief as close to the Gates/Parker model as possible — but their votes aren't in play in the secession battle anyway. The more moderate swing voters in the Valley would likely be reassured by an LAPD veteran who'd done time in Valley station houses, who had a working knowledge of Woodland Hills and Studio City. Such a choice, moreover, could be Latino or black. In short, a twofer. And twoferness is absolutely the most important political attribute that Hahn could find in a prospective chief.
Hahn's choice is also complicated by the rather stunning fact that a little more than a year after taking office he really has no political base at all. Hahn's Election Day coalition was a one-day wonder, consisting chiefly of L.A.'s more conservative whites who feared that Antonio Villaraigosa was too liberal and just maybe too Latino, and most of the city's black voters, who feared that Villaraigosa's victory would usher in a Latino-led municipal regime and usher out whatever clout blacks still wielded in city politics. But his opposition to secession cost Hahn what was always the tepid support of the Valleywhites, who constitute the vast majority of L.A. center-right and conservative voters. And his dumping of Parks cost him what had been the genuine, if not avid, support of much of black L.A. That leaves, by actual count, just about no one.
The irony here is that it's the two sides of Hahn's erstwhile coalition that are the sectors of Los Angeles least likely to be pleased by the same choice. One can imagine other permutations and combinations of support for a nominee — Latinos and the Valley coming together to welcome one nominee; the Westside, black L.A. and some Latinos backing another, and so on. But in all of Los Angeles, Hahn's Election Day alliance is the house most divided against itself on the question of who would make the perfect chief.
On the other hand, not having a base can be somewhat liberating. And looking ahead to his 2005 re-election campaign, Hahn does occupy the middle of the city's political spectrum, which will make any challenge difficult unless he screws up something major. If he does face a serious challenge, it won't likely come from his right: L.A.'s not conservative enough to elect that kind of mayor absent the kind of backlash that followed the '92 riots. The black community hasn't fielded a plausible mayoral candidate since Tom Bradley's last go-round in 1989, and the appeal of Magic Johnson as a mayoral candidate — something quite distinct from the appeal of Magic Johnson as a person — is very untested. A serious rival might emerge, as one did in 2001, from Latino L.A. But weighing these threats against one another (Magic has crossover appeal but may well not run; the Latino-ization of the L.A. electorate will just keep rolling along) really leads to no clear conclusion.
In any event, it's not a given that the tribal wars of Los Angeles will be so fierce this time around. My guess is that if L.A. has a silent majority today, it's made up of people who devoutly wish Hahn's choice not be subjected to ethnic second-guessing.
Ultimately, the politics of ethnic entitlement are difficult to sustain without an explicitly ethnic regime. (And, let us remember, the one long-running ethnic regime in Los Angeles history is still the white Protestants who dominated the city's life from the late 19th century straight through the Yorty administration.) From the late 19th century through the mid-20th, Boston and New York may have had an almost endless string of Irish-American chiefs, but that was because these cities were ruled for most of that time by Irish-American political machines. Los Angeles is a very diverse and fairly tolerant city that has never been big on machine politics of any ethnicity. If anything, this predisposes L.A. to practicing a kind of ethnic rotation in its chiefs of police. Good-government types might prefer ethnic blindness instead, but so long as race remains the dominant factor in city politics, ethnic rotation is not only the pattern we'll likely be seeing, but the better one.