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A Bobzilla-Tony Runoff?

Quite a city we live in. At the last minute, Channel 2 decided to pre-empt the live broadcast of its own mayoral debate Monday to make room for Entertainment Tonight’s post-Oscar jabber fest. (Is Jeff Gannon now running KCBS News?) Not really much of a surprise given that the culmination of the mayoral campaign next Tuesday marks for most Angelenos — dreamily oblivious to City Hall politics — the start of the real campaign: the May runoff between the top two finishers. Most people will start paying attention only after three of the five main contenders have been eliminated, and their collective interest in the whole affair won’t ever elicit half the passion invested in the great Hilary Swank–Annette Bening face-off of last week. I’ll admit that even for those of us who are paid to follow these things, it’s hard to get worked up much about next week’s election. I have found one wrinkle, however, to keep my interest piqued: what now appears to be the even-money chance that Mayor Jimmy Hahn won’t even make it into the runoff. For months it seemed that Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa were slam-dunkers to take the first two spots. But Bobzilla Hertzberg has been stomping his way up the polls and now threatens to push out Hahn. A Tony-Bobzilla runoff would be sweet. Not only because either one would make a better mayor than Hahn. Not only because it would be a popcorn-munching-class spectacle to watch these two former roommates go after each other. Not only because Hahn so richly deserves to be dealt such a humiliating defeat. But also because Hahn’s early elimination would serve up a much-needed paddling to some local progressives who have sold their souls to front for Jimmy. As I wrote in these pages a couple of months ago, people who ought to know better, mostly the County Federation of Labor and its allies, endorsed Hahn after some classic backroom deal making. It made no difference to them that Hahn ran a Yorty-like campaign in 2001, that it was Villaraigosa (not Hahn) who was the former labor organizer who had a 100 percent union voting record. Nope, these self-proclaimed labor “progressives” climbed into the tank with the mayor because his $11 billion LAX-expansion boondoggle will spin off some union jobs, because Hahn has rolled over on public-employee pay increases (in a time of municipal austerity) and because Hahn doled out seats to them on various city commissions. So what a cozy little scene it has been — labor chief Miguel Contreras, the city’s living-wage advocates, the organizers of the home health-care workers, all in their teddy-bear pajamas and snuggled into bed together with Mayor Hahn. Not even the probing flashlights of the federal and county grand juries, or the rustling of arrest warrants around the Fleishman-Hillard case, could break up the party. But if you roll up a copy of this week’s L.A. Times poll showing Hahn in third place — seemingly frozen at about 20 percent of the vote — and hold it closely to your ear, you can faintly hear the clucking of all those chickens coming home to roost. Contreras and company may soon have to call on some of those unionized hotel workers to come over and scrape the many layers of egg off their faces. Big Labor was willing to split L.A.’s progressive coalition in a gamble to back a squirrelly incumbent who needed to make concessions to stay in power. Some other progressives in the city, meanwhile, talked a blue streak defending Contreras’ move as a pragmatic maneuver to best defend his constituencies. Look where this has really put labor: on the edge of a precipice. Deserting your own natural candidate to back a winning incumbent is, perhaps, acceptable opportunism. Doing so to back a tainted loser is just plain stupid. If Bobzilla — who has relied not at all on labor for his campaign — becomes mayor, the unions will see their clout up for sale at the 99-cent store. If old union hand Villaraigosa comes out on top — after the County Fed deserted him — then he will have a golden opportunity to solidify the more moderate sectors of his base by being tougher with Contreras. That leaves Contreras only one out this week: to redouble labor’s efforts to elect the least attractive, the least popular and the most ethically compromised of the candidates. Worse, now that Hahn feels backed into a corner, he’s beginning once again to show his Sam Yorty side. At Monday’s debate he dusted off the old scaremonger language, blaming “Sacramento” (Bob and Tony) for letting “predators” run loose in the city. And he blamed illegal immigrants for hurting local workers when, of course, we all know that most local workers are illegal immigrants (and when Contreras’ own union is not only chock-full of the undocumented, but also rightfully calls for their amnesty). So, nice going, Miguel. A week out from the mayoral primary and local progressive labor is All Out — as they say — for the most reactionary of the candidates. And a probable loser.


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