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Hahn Solo 

Jimmy doesn’t like to be called dull. In fact, he defends his style with, uh, passion

Thursday, Feb 10 2005
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Photo by Ted SoquiIt’s high noon on a bright January day at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, the most famous intersection in the most media-savvy city in the world. For the dozens, then hundreds, of earnest tourists looking for the Chinese Theater, creative types lugging their guitar cases and business-suited office workers streaming outside on their lunch break, this is the center of the universe. This is the headquarters of fame. In the power seat of this intersection, at a restaurant table in a picture window on Hollywood Boulevard, gazing out at the passing crowd, is the man who runs this town. It is the mayor. James K. Hahn. Leader of the creative capital of the globe, the most important city on the western edge of the continent. For an hour, the clusters of people hustle over the star-studded sidewalk outside. Some glance in the restaurant window, where Mayor Hahn nibbles on a sandwich, but they quickly move down the boulevard, hoping, perhaps, to spy someone famous. That’s the thing about being mayor of Los Angeles. Politics, especially city politics, is such a low priority in the city of glitz that even the guy in charge is unnoticed and unknown. In San Francisco, Gavin Newsom is a celebrity who draws cheers when he walks through the Castro district or into North Beach. Chicago’s Richard Daley, like the leaders of Syria and the United States, stepped into his father’s job and has his picture in shops and cafés all over town. Even New Yorkers who wouldn’t recognize Michael Bloomberg would get excited, or chummy, or angry, if he was pointed out to them. But Mayor Jim Hahn was made for Los Angeles. Not for L.A., mind you — that state of mind where fame is king, the poolside parties last until dawn and the cosmic freeway rolls on toward eternity — but for Los Angeles, city of backyards, traffic advisories and mini-malls. He is the mayor you expected to see on Dragnet. Quiet, grave, poor at speechmaking, devoid of spark or zip, with a desk at City Hall for the last 20 years. He’s a working stiff who can’t understand why the city’s 311 information phone system (“One call to City Hall does it all”) doesn’t generate a front-page story in the paper. One of Hahn’s closest advisers once summed up the top demand that residents here have of their mayor, indeed of their entire city government: Leave us alone. Now Hahn, who will go down in history (if history pays attention) as the man who held the city together when it was about to split apart and ended the downward spiral of the Police Department, finds himself fighting to keep his job. Every early success threatens to morph into failure, or worse. By removing Bernard Parks, the African-American police chief and the last high-ranking black official in a city with a shrinking black presence, Hahn angered the African-American residents who so loved his father, the late county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. By blocking secession of the San Fernando Valley, he alienated his other base, white Valley moderates. Now federal prosecutors are looking into whether Hahn or his associates filled the coffers of the anti-cityhood drive by promising public contracts to companies that ponied up and four years of wandering in the permit and contract desert to those that didn’t. Hahn, 16-year city attorney, the steady scion of incorruptibility, suddenly sits atop a City Hall pay-for-play contracting scandal that rivals the East Coast dirty dealing Angelenos view with such contempt. And, oddest of all, Hahn continues to be called to account for his personality, the very trait that made him seem so comforting, so safe, to a city with a strong suspicion of local government. His more fiery opponents, like Antonio Villaraigosa, Bob Hertzberg and Richard Alarcón, charge that Hahn lacks that indescribable something that seems to get talked about only during re-election campaigns: leadership. He doesn’t have the energy. The style. That charge, at least, makes Hahn mad. “I get annoyed at this personal-style business,” he remarks, suddenly irritated. “If somebody’s bouncing up and down, yelling all the time, I don’t think they’re getting anything done. But for some reason, that’s the definition of energy and enthusiasm. I find it annoying. Okay?” He starts gesturing, in the manner of the energetic mayor he says his critics want him to be. He shouts. The startled waitress looks up from the bar. His police bodyguard cracks a smile. Now, finally, one of those Hollywood Boulevard passersby looks in the window and stares. It is, frankly, a bit alarming. “I can say, ‘I’m passionate about this issue!’ ” Hahn shouts, letting his arms fly wildly. “And I can yell it as loud as I can. I am so passionate about this issue!” His tone changes, thank goodness, to controlled disgust. “If I don’t do anything about it, and I don’t accomplish anything, who cares how passionate you are? Prove to me how passionate you are. Get things done. That’s what makes a difference to me. And I think that’s what makes a difference to voters.” We’ll soon see. Hahn has fulfilled many of the unkept promises left over from the previous administration, and has quietly redirected City Hall to begin doing the basic tasks it should have been doing all along. He’s pulled labor and progressive causes onto the city agenda to a level never approached before. Hahn has gotten a lot of things done. But like the mayor himself, they are not the kinds of things that usually get noticed. If ever there were a place to gaze into the face of the new Los Angeles, it’s here, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, on this hot July day in 2004. Thousands of school kids strain to hear speeches by politicians and translate the words for their parents, many of whom took a rare day off from work to cram onto church or union buses to come to this founding convention of “One L.A.” — a rebirth of the old Industrial Areas Foundation. Excitement is running high. Antonio Villaraigosa is here — the Latino councilman who ran for mayor three years earlier only to fall short in the final days. So is state Senator Gil Cedillo, the man who is fighting to restore real, legal driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. The sheriff, Lee Baca, was here. Oh, and the mayor. What's his name again? There is talk of Villaraigosa again running for mayor of Los Angeles. What does Cedillo think of that? The two men went to college and law school together. They are brothers in the labor movement and say they are personal friends, despite a falling out several years ago over their mutual interest in the same state senate seat. Will he support Antonio if he gets in the race? At the end of the convention Cedillo gestures toward the exhausted crowds leaving the massive hall. “The best mayor for working families,” he says, “the best mayor for the new Los Angeles, is Jim Hahn.” What? Hahn? This statement is coming from one of the state’s most progressive, left-leaning legislators, the former general manager of the county employees’ union who mobilized a “Rolling Thunder” campaign a decade ago for worker rights at a time of massive threatened layoffs. “This is a different kind of leadership,” Cedillo explains of Hahn. “This is quiet leadership. It’s great to be an orator, but in the end what matters is what you accomplish.” It is Hahn, Cedillo says, who got Police Chief Bill Bratton to come out forcefully for his driver’s license bill, and who continues to lobby for licenses for the tens of thousands of Los Angeles workers now making their way around town without insurance or ID for fear of immigration stings. It is Hahn who is pressing building owners to allow private security guards to organize for better working conditions. “He has been a warrior for labor,” Cedillo says. Jim Hahn? Warrior for labor? Yes, agrees Mike Garcia several months later, after the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor denied the endorsement it gave Villaraigosa four years ago. It’s backing Hahn this time. Is it a political payoff? Garcia, leader of SEIU Local 1877, the union of janitors that also is trying to organize security guards, is a friend and supporter of Villaraigosa but argues that Hahn has earned his backing. “We struck a common vision with the mayor,” Garcia says, on the issue of organizing the guards. Hahn devoted staff to Garcia’s union to help persuade private building owners to permit their guards to organize. It hasn’t happened yet, but Hahn is helping to keep the pressure on. On a host of issues important to organized labor over the last four years, union leaders who remain enthusiastic about Villaraigosa cite Hahn’s support of the failed grocery strike by the United Food and Commercial Workers. “He walked picket lines,” Garcia says. “He did everything that was asked of him to bring settlement to the strike.” Janice Wood, whose labor roots are in the Communication Workers of America and is a Hahn appointee to the Board of Public Works, contends that the mayor took one of the most progressive actions in Los Angeles since the 1990s living wage law by insisting on a citywide “Project Labor Agreement.” Such agreements already require contract bidders for particular construction projects to guarantee pay and benefit conditions to employees. Non-union companies can participate, but only if they offer the same wages and benefits and set aside money equivalent to the prevailing level of union dues. But they are limited, project by project. “These protected workers, union and non, and the mayor said, ‘Why can’t we do this on all our projects in the city?’ ” Wood says. “It was a startling idea. And it was his idea.” Wood also calls Hahn responsible for a more effective program to enforce prevailing wage requirements for workers on city contracts. But still, Hahn as a labor mayor? “I think that people believe that there is more than one pro-labor candidate in this race,” Wood says. “That says all the more about what a good labor mayor Jim Hahn is, when he gets the endorsement of labor. And remember, you need a two-thirds vote for the County Fed. On its face, that’s a ringing endorsement.” Mike Garcia says Hahn also did what he needed to on the MTA strike. But, wait — Hahn was invisible in the last bus strike — a point Villaraigosa said moved him to first consider challenging Hahn after promising his City Council constituents he wouldn’t. “I said, ‘Mayor, you’ve got to do something, get these people to the table!’ ” Villaraigosa told the Eagle Rock Association last summer. “He said, ‘Do you think they’ll listen to me?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to try.’ He said, ‘I don’t know, we’ve asked them to talk and they don’t want to, so there’s nothing we can do.’ I know why he didn’t want to do anything. He was afraid to fail. But as mayor you have to try.” It was Villaraigosa, with Martin Ludlow, who sued to be allowed to participate in strike talks, and who brokered a settlement that got the buses running again. “Antonio did a lot too,” Garcia responds, but adds that the public will never know about the quiet pressure the mayor put on all parties to settle. Hahn’s labor stance has drawn a mixed reaction from his business supporters, many of whom — like Richard Ziman of Arden Realty — have switched to Hertzberg. “I was a supporter of this mayor four years ago,” Ziman told a business group recently. “I do not support him now.” Others have stuck with him. Greg Vilkin of Forest City Development says Los Angeles had been so unfriendly to business for so long that he stopped even trying to do projects here until Hahn’s tenure. “This mayor listens,” Vilkin says. Hahn’s progressive portfolio also includes his strong backing of an ordinance championed by Councilman Eric Garcetti to restrict standard-lowering big-box stores like Wal-Mart. It should be noted, though, that one of Hahn’s biggest backers, attorney Dominic Rubalcava, the president of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, earned thousands of dollars as a lobbyist on the issue — for Wal-Mart. The power, and the limitations, of Hahn’s style were illustrated at the December dedication of a memorial wall in Lincoln Park for Latinos who died of AIDS. Hundreds of people were gathered in near-freezing cold to hear from civic leaders who made the controversial wall possible. The mayor was on the program. He didn’t show, instead sending a staffer. Not even a top staffer, at that. “Where’s the mayor?” shivering, angry people shouted in the darkened park. “Where’s the mayor?” “We’ll never see him elected to anything again,” muttered one woman. “No, he couldn’t come,” Cedillo acknowledged later. “But these people who are angry at him, they don’t know that when we had to struggle amongst controversy to build the wall, the only Latino AIDS awareness project, they don’t know that when it was in jeopardy Jim Hahn was able to marshal the resources. They don’t know that when Greg Boyle said my kids can no longer go out there to paint out graffiti, because it’s too dangerous, he talked to the ironworkers and other unions, and all those kids got jobs. I mean, that is concrete. That is real. That is measured results, not rhetoric, about what is your vision and what you’re going to do. It’s about what you have done.” Cedillo recalls being at a mayoral endorsement meeting over the summer for the Mexican American Bar Association. “These are activists,” Cedillo says. “And I was preparing to tell them about all the progressive things this mayor has done, but do you want to know what they talked about? About crime. About getting to school safely. And they realized that this mayor has delivered safer neighborhoods for them. And they backed him. In the end, even among the most hardcore activists, that’s what they want. What Jim Hahn delivers.” It’s not, of course, quite so simple. Many members of the County Fed still see Villaraigosa as their man, someone who is, in Garcia’s words, the “hope for the future.” After Villaraigosa was elected to the City Council in March 2003, Hahn put County Fed leader Miguel Contreras on the Airport Commission. He had already put Madeline Janis Aparicio, of the labor-allied Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, on the board of the Community Redevelopment Agency. Many critics dismiss the County Fed endorsement as a political payoff. That’s the challenge of “quiet leadership,” Cedillo says. “It’s our challenge to remind people what this mayor has done.” You already know the story, from city lore, campaign literature, and newspaper biographies that have appeared every four years since Hahn ran for city controller in 1981: Young Jimmy Hahn learned politics at the knee of his father, Kenny, a gregarious man elected to the City Council at age 26 and five years later to the county Board of Supervisors, where he served for 40 years. Kenny Hahn, a backslapping white man, lived with his wife, Ramona, and kids Jimmy and Janice in a house in the Crenshaw district and represented the African-American middle swath of the region and earned the love of voters by filling their potholes, showing up at their houses to listen to their complaints and standing up for civil rights. And it wasn’t just Kenny. Jim Hahn’s uncle Gordon Hahn served on the City Council for a decade, spanning most of the 1950s and early ’60s. A product of a religious family and a member of the Church of Christ, Jim Hahn selected a college, Pepperdine University, with a strong connection to the church and, incidentally, a plan to move from its South L.A. campus to a beautiful ocean-overlook estate in Malibu. Hahn stayed with Pepperdine for law school, graduated and passed the bar exam in 1975, then worked briefly at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and in private law practice. But he very soon made it clear he wanted to go into the family business, and he wasn’t necessarily interested in an entry-level job. He wanted to run for city attorney. “My dad, Kenny, always told me to do something else,” Hahn recently told a business group, being sure to mention his father’s name. “But kids don’t always listen to their parents.” Advice from the patriarch of another family dynasty — former Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown — caused him to reconsider. He was too young to be taken seriously for the post, friends remember Brown telling him. Why not, instead, run for city controller and use that as a springboard for city attorney down the road? Hahn was said to have objected that no one knows what the controller does. Exactly, he was told. Low profile. Get your foot in the door. Whether it was because of Brown’s advice or his own calculation, 30-year-old Jim Hahn decided to run for controller with a name on the ballot that made his family ties clear to people who loved his father: James Kenneth Hahn. In the more than two decades since, the name on his office has sometimes been James K. and sometimes Jim, but on the ballot it is always James Kenneth. He succeeded Ira Reiner, a media-savvy man with a thirst for “gotcha” press conferences. Hahn did things differently. “People were very disappointed when I came in as city controller, because I wasn’t Ira Reiner,” Hahn said recently. “They were used to someone throwing raw meat their way.” He doesn’t mention Laura Chick, the controller whose audits have become the foundation for criminal probes of Hahn’s City Hall by District Attorney Steve Cooley and U.S. Attorney Debra Yang. Chick, the first controller to serve under a new charter that gives her office more direct authority to critique city departments, may not be exactly an Ira Reiner when it comes to press conferences. But she’s close. “I took away a lot of fun headlines and embarrassment” as controller, Hahn said, “but I saved the city close to a million dollars when we put it in a new travel policy” that gave city officials a spending limit. “So that’s where I come from. That’s my approach to government. Not as much fun for reporters. But the bottom line is you save money for the taxpayers.” It was the early 1980s, but City Hall was still a very conservative place, and Hahn, in comparison, was a breath of fresh air. A few spottings at local clubs gave him a reputation as the “rock-and-roller controller.” There was little talk of his two-year marriage, which ended with divorce in 1979. (His second marriage, which began five years later, has lasted two decades on the books, but the couple is separated.) Reiner, by the way, didn’t stick around as city attorney much longer than he did as controller, giving Hahn a shot in 1985 to run for the job he wanted all along. He won easily, with a campaign that relied heavily on his South L.A. base. He served as city attorney for 16 years, never really facing any serious opposition until Mayor Richard Riordan’s consigliere, Ted Stein, mounted a strong election challenge in 1997. Stein was vicious in his criticisms of Hahn, whom he insisted on calling “Jimmy.” The mud flowed in both directions. Hahn eventually bested Stein by a wide margin, but it was clear from the personal animosity generated by the campaign that these two men could never work together. Hahn decided to keep on as city attorney and not make a play for the top job in 1993, when Tom Bradley called it quits after a fifth term as mayor. In City Hall, the question was, simply, who would inherit Bradley’s winning coalition. No one saw Richard Riordan coming. Here was a Republican, for heaven’s sake, an outsider. And a guy with a plan to impose term limits on elected officials! He called for contracting out services that were performed by public employees. Business people loved him. The secession-leaning Valley loved him. Labor — trade unions, anyway — well, they made peace. But city workers felt threatened when he moved to contract out city jobs. The teacher’s union watched with alarm as he opened his wallet and funded campaigns to oust the school board majority. Police officers, at first happy with a law-and-order-guy, chafed under the chiefdom of Riordan’s appointee Bernard Parks. The African-American community felt estranged after enjoying a direct pipeline to Bradley’s office. And the City Council — Riordan ignored the council, and the council couldn’t stand him because of it. In City Hall, where Jim Hahn was the number two elected official, bureaucrats and council members quietly looked to the city attorney to preserve life as they knew it. And Hahn quietly delivered. He censured one of Riordan’s deputy mayors for leaking a legal strategy to the city’s adversary in an energy lawsuit. That moved Riordan suddenly to decide he should be able to hire and fire the city attorney. So he embarked the city on charter reform. But he couldn’t do much without the lawyers in Hahn’s office and, besides, the city attorney’s appointee to one of the two charter commissions, George Kieffer, became the chairman of one of the panels and the guiding hand of reform, which took on a more modest cast. Meanwhile, at the culmination of the LAPD Rampart scandal, and with Riordan and Parks resisting a demand by federal prosecutors for broad and costly reforms, it was Hahn who took the lead in brokering a consent decree. He then set about assuring that it was followed. That was a bit of a stunner to critics who generally saw him as a do-nothing kind of city attorney. As Riordan did little to block Valley cityhood, other than to tell suburbanites “We love you and we want you to stay,” Hahn kept a close watch on the legal and bureaucratic instruments of secession. Inside City Hall, there were open expressions of relief as Riordan’s second term drew to a close. It was time for a return to reason. So while the County Federation of Labor backed Villaraigosa, the powerful City Hall unions went with the tried and true. Jim Hahn. That included the cops, who were never that enthusiastic about the city attorney but had finally had enough of Riordan’s brand of LAPD oversight. And black L.A. — well, first it had to endure Riordan, then Kenny Hahn died in 1997, followed the next year by Tom Bradley. Absent another Bradley running for mayor, there seemed no better choice for a return to power than Kenny’s boy. The Valley too seemed ready for Hahn. They loved Riordan in the Valley, but many leaders there never seemed comfortable about that charter-reform measure creating a new, powerful chief executive. What better guard against an East Coast type boss/mayor than the studied and steady — and, let’s face it, dull and unsurprising — Jim Hahn? Of course, Valley backing of Hahn was even more nuanced than that. Several cityhood leaders joked openly — and some apparently meant it — that they favored Hahn for mayor because they thought his bland personality and what they saw as a less-than-vigorous approach to his duties would translate into a lackluster campaign against secession. In other words, they went for Hahn because they thought he was a loser. It wasn’t the first time such a perverse argument had been made for him. Back in 1996, leaders of the Los Angeles Police Protective League urged Hahn to challenge District Attorney Gil Garcetti for re-election. The next year, during Hahn’s campaign against Stein, the union’s president said he’d hoped Hahn would take the bait not because the cops liked him so much, but because they wanted him out of the City Attorney’s office. The 2001 mayoral contest with Villaraigosa was tight, and especially tough because of the thousands of dollars pumped into the campaign on the ex Assembly Speaker’s behalf by the Democratic Party. But Hahn fans — or, at least, Villaraigosa foes, like the Soboba band of Mission Indians — pumped in thousands of independent expenditures of their own and produced the notorious TV ads showing Villaraigosa’s face superimposed over a crack pipe. It did the trick. Jim Hahn was elected mayor. Well, it figures. Jim Hahn is late to the Valley. Several dozen people are sitting around the tables in the upstairs meeting room at Galpin Motors, the unofficial parlor of San Fernando Valley secession, on this cold evening in December 2004. These are the people who are sticking with Valley VOTE, the group directing the cityhood efforts that died two years ago at the hands of Hahn’s L.A. United campaign. Above the auto showroom the activists are nudging each other. Will he show? After all, remember what happened at VICA. The mayor was to give his “State of the Valley” speech for the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, but he balked when it turned out the meeting was slated for a hotel involved in a labor dispute. I can’t go in there, Hahn had said. So it was rescheduled for another day at another hotel, one not involved in the dispute, and Hahn said okay. But when it was time for the speech, Hahn wasn’t there. He had gotten sick. This time, at Galpin, he shows. A few minutes around the room, shaking hands, chatting amiably. Then, leaning against a table, he begins: “It’s great to be out here in the Valley.” The Valley VOTE folks eye each other knowingly. There it is. “Out here” in the Valley, like it’s some kind of foreign territory. The mayor says he had heard the Valley complaints about how City Hall treats them and had responded with a litany of important city programs. L.A. Stat. Teamwork L.A. 311. Huh? That’s part of Hahn’s trouble in outlining his successes. These are not barn-burners. They’re wonkish. Boring. And, for the most part, they do things that residents would be astonished to learn the city hadn’t been doing all along. Like, find out how long it takes to fill a pothole or fix a streetlight, or find out how many people didn’t get their trash picked up. Standards for general managers of city departments? Never had them before. Enlist city workers — in any department — to call in downed trees and broken sidewalks they spot while making their rounds? Sure, it was Laura Chick’s idea. But it was a good one, and Hahn implemented it. Full-service City Halls in each region of the city, funding for neighborhood councils, reorganizing departments into units that coordinate their response to problems — never been done before. The Valley VOTE presentation goes well enough, the stress on public safety and the reminder that Hahn brought it “the best police professional in the country” in the person of Chief Bill Bratton is well received. But after the mayor leaves, with his media reps and his bodyguard, challengers Richard Alarcón and Walter Moore are left behind to kibbitz with the crowd. “Did you hear him?” they ask each other. “ ‘Out here’ in the Valley!” Some weeks later, at the make-up VICA event, Hahn is trying again to make nice with Valley folks. Many of them are having none of it. Businessman and former city Planning Commission president Bob Scott says Hahn’s strong campaign was a slap in the face to the Valley, after it played such a big role in putting him in the mayor’s office. “Dick Riordan seemed to recognize the fact that the Valley had gotten him elected,” Scott said. “The current mayor declared war on the Valley. He launched an all-out campaign, calling in all the chits.” When it gets out that Hahn will take only three questions because, again, he’s not feeling well, the whispered joke runs quickly around the room: the Valley makes Jim Hahn sick. The defeat of Valley secession was the culmination of an extraordinarily demanding 18-month period. Even before secession, even before the ouster of LAPD Chief Bernard Parks, even before the September 11 terror attacks on the East Coast, Hahn was already expected to deliver on implied, but never spoken, promises. Inside City Hall everyone expected Jim Hahn to spend his first year cleaning up what they saw as Riordan’s mess. To stanch the exodus of unhappy LAPD officers and to stop the department from becoming a training base for smaller police departments all over the region that offer flexible work schedules, Hahn ordered Parks to adopt such a system. Parks balked, but ultimately relented. Hahn also appeared bent on reversing Riordan’s penchant for championing citywide projects, like LAX expansion, over neighborhood concerns, like airport noise and traffic congestion. He abandoned Riordan’s airport expansion and instead instructed staff to craft a plan that limited the number of passengers. While the new charter required the mayor to appoint at least one person from San Pedro to represent neighborhood concerns on the Harbor Commission, for example, Hahn made sure there were two — school principal Camilla Townsend Kocol and attorney Nick Tonsich. Where Riordan let the new neighborhood councils drift aimlessly, Hahn appointed Greg Nelson, the city’s top advocate for councils, to head the new department. And he gave each council $50,000 a year so they might actually get some work done. There were those wonkish programs that all seemed to start or end with “L.A.,” like L.A. Stat. “I’m the first mayor to impose measurement standards on city departments,” Hahn notes. “You’d be shocked that nobody ever did that before. Even Mr. Businessman. But it hadn’t been done before. And I put in L.A. Stat, which measures performance of the Public Works Department and the Department of Transportation. We’ll have them all done eventually.” When 9/11 hit, it just figured that Hahn would be stuck on the East Coast and unable to get home for three days. City Council president Alex Padilla — hardly a more dynamic personality than Hahn — took the lead role in calming the city. The mayor had to face an economic crisis spurred by declining tax revenues at the airport and at area hotels and restaurants. Business leaders complained that he wasn’t as business-oriented as Riordan. Then Hahn announced that he didn’t want Parks for another five-year term. African-Americans felt betrayed. This anti-Riordan was looking downright Riordanesque! His slogan, for goodness’ sake, was the exact same as the previous mayor’s — to make L.A. the “safest big city in America.” Couldn’t he come up with something original? Then there was a budget fight with the City Council. Officials who expected a new era of collaboration were shocked at what they saw as the mayor’s my-way-or-the-highway attitude. “People in the council expected a big difference, compared with the Riordan days,” Padilla complains. “People expected more dialogue, more interaction. There was significant disappointment. I felt that the office was not open-minded at all.” Padilla, a strong Hahn backer last time, has withheld an endorsement this time out. Dennis Zine is just one of several council members unhappy that Hahn has taken his new charter authority over city general managers too literally. He endorsed Hahn but is now considering a dual endorsement with Villaraigosa. “Shall we say I’m getting weak-kneed?” Zine jokes. At some point, everything began to unravel. To many observers, the spark — and yes, there was some spark — went out of Hahn just before or just after a November 2002 trip to Asia with a team from PR giant Fleishman-Hillard. Rumors of personal strife began to circulate around City Hall after Hahn’s return from Asia, but it was several months before Hahn’s lawyer announced that he and his second wife, Monica, had separated after 20 years of marriage. Monica Hahn moved out, leaving the mayor to care for his teenage daughter, Karina, and her younger brother, Jackson, in their modest gray ranch-style house on a quiet working-class street in San Pedro. There were some pretty blatant gaffes. He missed his deadline for appointing a batch of city commissioners to open spots, so Padilla stepped in and did the appointments himself. Hahn tried to salvage and transform Riordan’s LAX plan, turning it from a massive expansion package into a modernization plan that attempts to cap the passenger load and curb traffic, while pressuring airlines to fly to expanded facilities in Palmdale and Ontario. To help make the case he relied on deputy mayors Matt Middlebrook and Troy Edwards, and Commissioner Ted Stein — the man who had so savaged him in the 1997 city attorney campaign. It took Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski to make the airport plan sellable, but even now it has won few friends outside of organized labor, which will reap the benefit of thousands of new construction jobs. Middlebrook left for Fleishman-Hillard, and Edwards and Stein, of course, resigned their positions under pressure after complaints surfaced that they threatened companies that didn’t back the plan. Then there were further claims — the two, and perhaps others, like Commissioner Leland Wong, had been such powerful fund-raisers for the anti-secession campaign because they promised contracts to big donors, and only to big donors. Two grand juries are currently looking into it. “He seems to be drawing into a tighter and tighter circle, and not dealing with anyone outside,” said one council staffer. “He only seems to talk with McOsker — [chief of staff Tim McOsker] — or Doane [Deputy Mayor Doane Liu].” As for Hahn’s blows for neighborhood empowerment, well, the neighborhood councils did not uniformly show deep appreciation for the money and clout the mayor had given them. At the harbor, Nick Tonsich — one of the San Pedro folks Hahn put on the commission — turned out to have some controversial business deals that some called a conflict of interest with his commission duties. The hefty raises Hahn got for cops to keep them happily working at the LAPD instead of setting out for cushier patrols in smaller cities drew complaints from critics that Hahn had squandered money that could have been spent — should have been spent — on new LAPD hires. Now the focus on possible corruption and the current campaign have attracted attention to other possible problems with Hahn fund-raising. County prosecutors are looking into whether 2001 contributions to Hahn’s mayoral campaign allegedly laundered by attorney Pierce O’Donnell came in exchange for a promise of a piece of the action for O’Donnell’s firm in a massive lawsuit against El Paso Natural Gas and other energy companies, arising from the power fiasco of several years ago. Hahn was called into the District Attorney’s office to testify on the matter last year, as was McOsker. In fact, there have been no criminal charges filed against anyone in the Hahn administration. The closest prosecutors have gotten so far are fraud charges against former Fleishman Hillard executive John Stodder for allegedly adding fake hours to bills charged to the Department of Water and Power. In that matter, Hahn claims the city is simply the victim. But the focus on corruption is hard to shake, especially when probes delve beyond Hahn’s successes, like his 2001 mayoral victory and his defeat of secession, back to his days as city attorney. The mayor claims his problems stem from the fact that he made lots of enemies when he fired Parks and kept the city together. “If I had been wrong, and mistaken, about whether or not we needed new leadership at the LAPD, whose head would that fall on?” Hahn demands, sitting at his table at a restaurant called Hollywood and Vine, on the famous intersection that bears the same name. “Mine. If crime had gone up, after I brought in Bill Bratton, if officers kept leaving the department in droves like they did under the previous police chief, I’d have been wrong. That would have all fallen on my head. Hey, you know what? Since I have paid a political cost for it, I ought to get a little credit for being right.” Perhaps. Maybe he should also get credit for unprecedented housing construction, renewed development, a generally improving quality of life for residents. But it doesn’t work that way. Part of Los Angeles having an unknown mayor is that voters here don’t always grasp just what the top guy here can do, and what he can’t. Gavin Newsom, for example, and Richard Daley and Michael Bloomberg, have authority over public schools, the health system, welfare, jails — the whole host of government programs and services. The mayor of Los Angeles has none of that power. “I focus on what I have control over,” Hahn says. “For example, the streets.” No matter how much Hahn may accomplish, though, he leaves many inside and outside City Hall with no clear image of just who the mayor of Los Angeles is. In such a vast city with such a limited focus (except at election time) on local government, it could be that instead of the mayor filling the political void, here it is the void that fills the mayor. Dennis Zine put it this way: “The mayor needs to have, shall we say — huevos.” In Los Angeles, the mayor has his pulpit, and he has his presence. If he wants to fix potholes, he may have a little trouble getting people excited about that, but he can. What he needs is a little PR. And that’s the chief irony facing Jim Hahn. In the midst of the Fleishman-Hillard scandal, amid charges that he allowed a PR exec to shape policy in his office and got free help with his image, is the simple fact that Hahn has a lousy image, damaged, not enhanced, by Fleishman. It’s not enough to prove that he has no role in the Fleishman scandal, but it may be the best he can do, until the county and federal grand juries close their investigations. In the meantime, he’s got fans like Julie Butcher of the city employees union. There’s no way, Butcher says, Hahn could have improperly used the PR services of Fleishman-Hillard on the taxpayer’s dime. “Jim Hahn?” Butcher jokes. “He’s too boring to be corrupt.”

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