Running Like Bushes

The mayor of Los Angeles has his four-letter political dynasties mixed up. He’s not running like a Hahn — at least, not like his father, the legendary Kenny, elected 10 times as a county supervisor. Instead, he’s running like a Bush. Coming off his first debate with Antonio Villaraigosa, Jim Hahn accused his opponent of “bobbing and weaving.” Four years ago, Hahn alleged, Villaraigosa had sounded dubious about keeping Bernie Parks on as chief when he was speaking in the Valley, and enthused about keeping Parks on when he was speaking in South-Central. To a certain degree, Hahn’s charge was rendered moot by Parks’ endorsement this Tuesday of Villaraigosa. The former Assembly speaker had indeed altered the text a bit when talking about Parks four years ago, but if that doesn’t bother Parks, why should it trouble anybody else? The problem for Hahn is, it has to bother somebody else, otherwise Hahn loses a major line of attack. Trailing in private polling by roughly 20 points, Hahn is seeking to make an issue of Villaraigosa’s character. And he’s going about it the way that George W. Bush and Karl Rove went after John Kerry — by looking at discrepancies, real and imagined, in Villaraigosa’s record and accusing him of flip-flopping. But the real model for Hahn and his campaign consultants, Bill Carrick and Kam Kuwata, isn’t Bush 2004. It’s Bush 1988. The campaign that Poppy Bush and Lee Atwater (who was to Bush 41 what Rove is to Bush 43) waged against Michael Dukakis seems to be the template for Hahn’s campaigns — four years ago and today — against Villaraigosa. Four years ago, the ad featuring a sinister-looking Villaraigosa and some drug paraphernalia — making a mountain out of the molehill that was the letter Villaraigosa sent to President Clinton asking that he consider a pardon for a son of a political associate — was a latter-day knockoff of the Bush campaign’s notorious Willie Horton ad. Now, the Hahn campaign has resurrected Old Man Bush’s attack on Dukakis’ affiliation with the ACLU. To do that, Hahn was required to propose a citywide gang injunction last week — an utterly unworkable and probably unconstitutional idea that did enable him, however, to go after Villaraigosa’s role in the Southern California ACLU. Back in 1992, when Villaraigosa was vice president of the local chapter’s board, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against one such injunction that Hahn had leveled as city attorney. In the 2001 mayor’s race, Hahn attacked Villaraigosa for his stance on gang injunctions, calling his opponent “more likely to be sympathetic to the criminal than to the victim.” Villaraigosa responded that he supported gang injunctions, along with other preventive measures. But Hahn’s numbers in the current election look sickly, so he’s come up with a proposal that yet again enables him to out-law-and-order Antonio. By extending the scope of such injunctions from several-dozen-block areas to the entire city, and to all the city’s 39,565 identified gang members, Hahn has put forth a policy that cannot possibly be followed unless the police force — currently at 9,131 officers — is expanded by a factor of 10. But Hizzoner has raised an issue that allows him to look tougher than Villaraigosa, and to raise again his opponent’s history in the ACLU. In fact, Villaraigosa is a civil libertarian, though his support for manageable gang injunctions makes clear that he understands that police need an array of tools in combating gang violence. We haven’t reached the Willie Horton moment in this campaign; perhaps Carrick and Kuwata will forgo it this time around. But their man is lagging, there are still six weeks to go, and they have plainly mastered the Bush family playbook. Of late, much of Kuwata’s time has been taken up by discounting the effect of onetime clients (his) and allies (Hahn’s) who have endorsed Villaraigosa this time around. When Jane Harman, the member of Congress for whom Kuwata labored in her 1998 gubernatorial campaign, endorsed Villaraigosa last week, Kuwata noted that she “doesn’t spend much time in Los Angeles.” At the rate at which Villaraigosa is picking up endorsements, Kuwata will have disparaged the entire political class of Los Angeles by the time the campaign is through. Villaraigosa’s crucial endorsements, of course, are the ones he’s picking up in the Valley and in the African-American community — Hahn’s two bastions of support four years ago. In 2001, Congresswoman Maxine Waters not only backed Hahn; she attacked any blacks supporting Villaraigosa as traitors to the community. This time around, she, Bernie Parks and Yvonne Burke head a long list of black leaders for Villaraigosa. For his part, Hahn was reduced last week to touting an endorsement from Nate Holden — a clear sign, if one were needed, of a campaign in trouble. (Maybe the late Gil Lindsay, whose spirit Holden seemed to be channeling in his later years on the City Council, will endorse Hahn, too.) Even among Republicans, Hahn can seem to do no better than the B-team. In recent days, he’s been endorsed by county supe Mike Antonovich, whose district barely touches the city, and GOP mayoral candidate Walter Moore, who pulled down a mighty 1 percent of the vote in the primary. Villaraigosa countered with an endorsement from Richard Riordan, not to mention a slew of Valley homeowner-group honchos. As the Hahn machine continues its attack, Villaraigosa’s support among Valley centrists is likely to wane somewhat. What’s hard to see is how Villaraigosa loses his sizable current lead among African-American voters. Hahn has to win that community if he’s to be re-elected, and there’s no easily apparent way he can do that. That’s a subject on which the Bush playbook is notably mute.

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