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A House Divided

Now here’s a governing coalition.

As the accompanying map makes clear, Jim Hahn put together a one-time hodgepodge of an Election Day majority. He ran strongest in the city’s most heavily African-American council district (the 8th, Mark Ridley-Thomas’), while his second best district was L.A.’s most Republican (the west Valley’s 12th, Hal Bernson’s). His third best was Laura Chick’s overwhelmingly white west Valley 3rd District, and his fourth was Old Nate Holden’s 10th District, still an African-American stronghold when it comes to voting.

In short, the Hahn majority is a house divided against itself. When a candidate pulls 80 percent support among African-Americans and 79 percent support among Republicans, his stars are aligned as they are never likely to be again. It’s hard to think of very many issues on which Hahn’s two bases agree. Certainly not police reform or renewing the contract of Bernie Parks. Certainly not the contracts of city employee unions, which are disproportionately African-American.

We’ve seen this lineup just once before in L.A.’s political history: the 1994 vote on Proposition 187, which saw South-Central districts joining the west Valley to support Pete Wilson’s immigrant-bashing initiative. This year’s vote is by no means that sinister: Had Antonio Villaraigosa been running off against, say, Republican Steve Soboroff rather than the Son of Kenny Hahn, I don’t doubt that L.A.’s African-American voters would have gone with Villaraigosa, as they went with Tom Hayden four years ago and Mike Woo eight years ago against (in both instances) Republican Richard Riordan.

The Villaraigosa coalition, both geographically and politically, was the more coherent and compact — a little too compact, in fact, to reach 50 percent. He carried five of the city’s 15 council districts, running strongest in the three represented by Latino council members (in order, Mike Hernandez’s 1st District, Nick Pacheco’s 14th and Alex Padilla’s 7th). He also won Jackie Goldberg’s old district, the 13th, and, narrowly, the late John Ferraro’s 4th District (suggesting that Ferraro’s successor can, and will likely, be positioned well to the left of old John).

There are two distinct ways to measure Latino turnout in the election, which is why the commentary on this issue has been all over the map. Among registered voters, Latinos actually outperformed every other group in the city, voting at a 41 percent rate (according to the estimates of the William C. Velásquez Institute) compared to an overall citywide total of 36 percent. The two council districts with the highest rates of turnout were Villaraigosa’s best, Pacheco’s and Hernandez’s, and this was a last-shall-be-first achievement, since these are among the city’s poorest and least politically powerful districts. Turning out these voters was the work of the labor movement — more particularly, of the Farm Workers, the Janitors, and the Hotel and Restaurant unions, all of whom, clearly, did a stellar job.

The problem for Villaraigosa was that the raw number of registered Latinos still isn’t particularly high. Hernandez’s district — his strongest, and number two in percentage of registered voters who went to the polls — also ranked dead last in the absolute number of people who voted. Indeed, the four districts that the former Assembly speaker carried with over 60 percent support ranked 15th, 11th, 13th and 12th out of the 15 council districts in the overall number of voters who went to the polls. While the Villaraigosa operation was first-rate, the Villaraigosa universe was too small to begin with.

Villaraigosa was also hurt by the age skew that is a permanent fixture of American politics — by the fact that the old outvote the young in virtually every election. Among voters under 45, Villaraigosa won a hefty 57 percent support — but voters under 45 constituted just 38 percent of the electorate on June 5. The silver lining on this cloud, of course, is what it portends for Villaraigosa’s coalition, and, indeed, for the city at large. Fully 55 percent of the Latino vote, moreover, was under 45. In the long run, the future in Los Angeles belongs to Antonio Villaraigosa and his legions.

But in the short run, it belongs to Jim Hahn. Which is to say, at most, at best, that modest change awaits us.

Certainly, there couldn’t have been too many pulses that quickened at the news that Hahn had appointed attorney/banker Bill Wardlaw to head his transition team. Wardlaw served as Dick Riordan’s consigliere for the first six years of Riordan’s mayoralty, and his return to the apex of power after a two-year exile portends an administration that is at the cutting edge of — well, nothing. Nonetheless, Hahn is a mainstream Democrat who in the course of the campaign, partly as a result of pressure from Villaraigosa, pledged himself to a number of progressive departures from Riordan’s policies. Foremost among these, Hahn agreed to commit $100 million of city funds annually to an affordable-housing trust fund. The Riordan administration simply declined to craft an affordable-housing policy at all — a decision that looks particularly inexcusable with the publication of an L.A. Times analysis of new census data that shows Southern California to be absolutely the most residentially overcrowded section of the nation (the seven U.S. cities with the most overcrowded households are all heavily Latino, working-class L.A. suburbs, starting with Santa Ana and El Monte). Unlike Villaraigosa, Hahn never specified a source for the fund he proposed to create, but his proposal is a major advance over past policy — and one to which he should be vigilantly held.

Hahn also committed himself to reverse a number of Riordan transportation policies — again, under pressure from Villaraigosa. He vowed to use his considerable clout at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (on whose board he’ll control 4 of 11 votes) to get the MTA to drop its appeal of the consent decree that requires the district to purchase hundreds more buses. He promised as well to lower bus fares — and, again, these are pledges to which bus-rider advocates must hold him.

Though its candidate lost the mayor’s race, L.A.’s civic left enters the Hahn years with considerable clout. During just the past three weeks, for instance, while the city’s political attention was riveted on the mayor’s race, L.A.’s labor-community progressive coalition won two other groundbreaking victories of national importance. In Santa Monica, a coalition of hotel and restaurant workers, clergy, and community activists prevailed upon the City Council to enact a living-wage ordinance that applies not simply to employees of city contractors, but to employees of all large-scale businesses — chiefly, luxury hotels — in the city’s beachfront area. In essence, these living-wage activists — in a jurisdiction outside L.A.’s city limits, to be sure, but hailing from L.A.-based organizations — prevailed upon that city to create a municipal living wage for a class of private-sector employees.

In downtown L.A., meanwhile, a similar coalition of living-wage advocates, unions and (in this instance, low-income) community activists reached a similarly unprecedented agreement with the managers and owners of Staples Center. In this instance, the Staples folks are soon to go before the City Council to seek approval for a mega-development around the arena and convention center. (“Mega,” in this instance, means one or two hotels, a 7,000-seat theater complex, a number of high-rise apartments and a collection of stores.)

Such is the clout of the union movement, and so tight is the new alliance between the unions and the neighborhood organizations that make up the Figueroa Corridor Coalition, that the friendly folks at Staples — owned chiefly by billionaires Philip Anschutz and Rupert Murdoch — decided to sign a compact with the unions and the coalition before they went to the council. The community compact stipulates that many (by some estimates, 70 percent) of the 5,400 jobs that will be created within the new complex be living-wage jobs, complete with health benefits. It mandates a local hiring and job-training program for low-income residents in the vicinity of the project. It requires that 20 percent of the housing be set aside for low-income tenants in the area, and that additional funds be provided to nonprofit developers who will build other affordable-housing projects. It designates further developer funding for the creation of new parks in the area. The union compact, which negotiators say is all but complete, will enable hotel and theater workers to join unions without opposition from management — effectively ensuring that at least half the newly created jobs will be unionized.

L.A. County Federation of Labor chief Miguel Contreras puts the Staples agreement in context: “In the old days,” says Contreras, “major developers agreed to pay a prevailing wage, basically a union wage, to the construction workers who built their projects. Recently, this has been extended [beginning with Trizec-Hahn’s Hollywood-Highland project] so that the service-sector employees who work in the buildings after they’re done being built get a living wage, too. With Staples, we add a third leg: The developers also agree to include the community on the list of those who benefit from their project.”

All of this, it should be noted, is taking place on the final ticks of Richard Riordan’s watch, and the coalition that brought this agreement into existence will certainly not grow any weaker under Jim Hahn. More broadly, nothing could really undermine L.A.’s civic left — unless the backlash of the pro-Hahn unions against Contreras, who engineered the Fed’s endorsement of Villaraigosa, unexpectedly runs amok. Plainly, there are some Hahn supporters who want labor to subordinate its goals to those of the new mayor. Hahn’s victory, Congresswoman Maxine Waters told the L.A. Times, means that “instead of [unions] going to him with their agenda, they are going to have to say, ‘How can we work together?’ and ‘What would you like to see done?’” (Ever the friend of the working stiff, that Maxine.) Hahn’s labor supporters presumably don’t want to go that far.

Besides, it’s precisely Contreras’ daring — vigorously backing a succession of pro-labor candidates in one hotly contested election after another — that has played a key role in transforming L.A. from a moderately Dem- ocratic city to a kick-ass union town over the past five years. It is inconceivable that the kind of compact crafted at Staples would have even been hatched absent the political program that Contreras orchestrated. Should the Fed now move, as a few Hahn supporters have privately suggested, to requiring a total consensus of its hundreds of locals before endorsing a candidate (a policy that applies within the local Building Trades Council, which, not surprisingly, made hardly any endorsements this year), labor will lose much of the power it has amassed since Contreras took the helm at the Fed. Even the most vengeful of the pro-Hahn unions can’t really want the movement’s nose cut off to spite its face.

As with the new mayor, so with the new council: not as liberal as the left would have liked, but liberal enough for the left to work with. Though some progressive candidates lost their council runoffs on June 5, the incoming council is ideologically indistinguishable from its predecessor. In the 15th District, the newly elected Janice Hahn is clearly more liberal than the outgoing Rudy Svorinich; in the 3rd District, Police Protective League stalwart Dennis Zine — whose lead may vanish once all the absentee ballots are counted — is correspondingly more conservative than term-limited incumbent Laura Chick (the city’s new controller). The four other new members have political perspectives that seem virtually identical to their respective predecessors’.

The performance of newly elected City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo is harder to foresee, since Delgadillo advanced virtually no ideas in the course of his campaign about what he’d do in office — indeed, he gave little impression that he’d even thought about it. Clearly, he hasn’t given a lot of thought to avoiding either the appearance or the reality of a conflict of interest, since his campaign manager has told the Times that Rocky won’t recuse himself from representing the city against the billboard companies that have sued it to weaken or reverse its anti-billboard ordinances — this despite the fact that billboard companies invested over $400,000 on Delgadillo’s behalf during the campaign. Even before he takes office, the Rock is leading with his chin.


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