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
“I told you!” came a retort from a man at the back of the shop, and the peals of laughter that followed hinted at a 3-year-old argument about whether Jim Hahn is truly the heir to his father, Kenny, the backslapping, flesh-pressing, hard-working county supervisor who was so loved in the black community.
A few miles to the west, and four days earlier, an astounding collection of political thinkers, activists and elected officials gathered to talk over the state of affairs in a city with an emerging Latino political dominance. At the table at Loyola Marymount were, at one point or another during the afternoonlong session, mayoral candidates or former candidates or potential candidates Richard Alarcon, Robert Hertzberg, Antonio Villaraigosa and Mike Woo (Parks was coming but had to be at a city budget meeting). Hahn, and his 2001 defeat of Villaraigosa in a tough and nasty campaign, was in the back of everyone’s mind.
Alarcon gave an impassioned stump speech, which drew no applause, leading Woo to remark that it would need some work before the campaign got serious.
Conference organizer Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles, announced that the final exam for his political-science students was to write an essay describing whether Hertzberg, based on his cagey remarks from the table, would be running for mayor. “I need a really good grade,” Guerra read from a card passed up to the front. “So please say, as clearly as possible, whether or not you are running for mayor. Speak slowly.” Hertzberg, who at that point had yet to declare his intentions, only joked that he would announce before the students’ final-exam date.
The most obvious lesson of the Loyola conference was that when Guerra invites you to speak at a forum on politics in California, you show up, if you know what’s good for you.
But there were other lessons too. Los Angeles County Federation of Labor chief Miguel Contreras vowed that labor would be the major player in the mayor’s race, and that he would endorse by mid-November. But he said the real test for Latinos lies elsewhere, in 2006, when 15 safely Democratic Los Angeles County seats in the state Legislature open up. Who will fill them? They will be Democrats, but will they be coalition-building progressives, like 47th Assembly District nominee Karen Bass — also on the panel — or Democrats with different motives and objectives?
Even sooner, Contreras reminded everyone, voters will likely pass a new open-primary law, meaning runoffs in Democratic districts will no longer be a free pass for whoever won in the primary. Instead of token Republican opposition in November, for example, Bass would be facing a tough runoff against Nate Holden.
As for Hahn, who appointed Contreras to the Airport Commission and is now counted as a “friend to labor,” the County Fed chief said it was a mistake to assume the Gray Davis recall meant the mayor is vulnerable.
“Are people excited about this mayor?” Contreras asked. “No. Are they angry at this mayor? I don’t think they’re angry at this mayor.”
But amid the predictions — and amid eye-opening observations from Cal State Fullerton political-science professor Raphael Sonenshein that in Los Angeles “where there were once Republicans there are now Latinos,” and that the city will probably never again have a Republican in a mayoral runoff — came a plea from former state Senate Majority Leader Richard Polanco that it doesn’t matter if a Latino, or anyone else, is elected to an executive post like mayor if the candidate accomplishes nothing.
Pull out the report cards, said Polanco, who explained that he passed on supporting Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor against Hahn.
“It’s of no value if we are there in numbers without a strategic plan for economic revitalization and empowerment,” Polanco said. “It’s of no value if we cannot lessen the numbers of the uninsured. It’s of no value if we cannot create an educational system that we can all be proud of.”