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
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mayor Jim Hahn!” The people stand and applaud. The cameras roll. The tape system cranks up a Sousa march, and into Fire Station 88 in Sherman Oaks strides the mayor of Los Angeles, slowly walking toward the podium, shaking hands along the way, trying to make his presence felt as he prepares to deliver his third annual State of the City address. At this time next year, an election will have taken place and he will know whether he’s in a runoff for a second term. Today, dogged by allegations of corruption among his commissioners and in his office, and facing a giant budget gap, he knows he will have to make a strong impression. This is important.
Now at the podium, backed by rows of firefighters and police officers in dress uniform, he gazes across the room to where his script is presented on a giant screen for all to see. The first line he is to read: “Looking out at the crowd assembled here today, I see a lot of faces I have had the pleasure of knowing as friends during my travels throughout this city.” But he muffs it. Maybe it’s overconfidence. Maybe it’s nerves. He looks out to the crowd and speaks:
“I see a lot of you here today.”
He tries to collect himself and looks back toward the screen. “Looking out at the crowd . . .” But something is wrong. He squints toward his aides, standing under the giant screen.
“What are we doing?” he asks into the microphone. “Oh, the Pledge? I thought we did that already.”
But no, the uniformed high school students with the flags are still at the door. Hahn sheepishly advises the crowd that he will get out of the way, and he does, ducking away from the podium, scrambling for a seat among the firefighters. Now comes the flag salute. Now the national anthem. Time to start over.
“Once again, Mayor Jim Hahn!”
He returns to the podium as the crowd of city employees, elected officials and Hahn appointees applaud, offer up a nervous chuckle and prepare to get down to business. He leans toward the microphone. He opens his mouth to speak. And then — what’s that noise? It sounds like an air hose, or maybe a giant vacuum cleaner. Air is venting so loudly through the fire station that Hahn’s speech is aborted, yet again.
“That’s exciting,” he says in the most unexcited voice imaginable. Station personnel try to figure out where the noise is coming from. Minutes pass. Hahn sits again.
The venting is turned off, and Hahn again walks toward the podium. Now?
“Welcome, everybody. Looking out at the crowd assembled here today . . .”
Finally, the State of the City speech. Challenging budget times, more afterschool programs, more firefighters, more affordable housing, no tolerance for unethical behavior, but — you have to wonder, as the first few notes of “I Love L.A.” are cranked up at what some staffer apparently thought was the end of the speech (Hahn had more to say, and the music was quickly shut off) — after three years, is this the best show Hahn’s people can put on? Amid all the allegations that his office was giving sweetheart deals to master public-relations firm Fleishman Hillard, is this the finest work that Fleishman could do for him?
The performance was, in a nutshell, Mayor Jim Hahn’s office in 2004. Experienced deputies gone, a bunch of young kids at the controls, lackluster statements from the podium, no one in the audience but nodding staffers, uniformed officers with fresh contracts and comfortable raises standing behind their mayor. Even Fleishman Hillard is now reportedly giving up and fleeing City Hall.
After the speech, Councilman Bernard Parks materialized, telling the cameras that Los Angeles is leaderless. Elsewhere on the floor, Controller Laura Chick was reminding all who would listen that the new City Charter explicitly makes the mayor accountable for the acts of his commissioners. In the minds of those 30 or so drafters who put their document before Los Angeles voters exactly five years ago, there was one clear avenue for dealing with corruption among city managers or commissioners — get rid of the mayor.
That evening, Parks was holding forth at Lawrence Tolliver’s Barbershop, on Florence a few blocks east of Normandie. The TV cameras were there, and Parks reminded the handful of men who came to hear him speak, or to get their hair cut, or both, that in 2001 their community gave Hahn seven and a half of every 10 votes cast for mayor. “And I don’t think you’ve seen the return on that investment,” he said. The patrons nodded, and asked a few polite questions about flight paths and Proposition A funding. Then the cameras left.
“This is barbershop now,” one man shouted, as the rest laughed and shouted in response. “Barbershop rules. You can say what you mean now.”
And Tolliver did, pausing with his razor over the man in his chair getting his beard trimmed.
“He’s like in a fog!” Tolliver said of Hahn. “He’s got no personality.”