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Wake Up, Antonio

Let’s hope that Antonio Villaraigosa’s victory party — the biggest anyone can remember, with 5,000 or more celebrating in the downtown streets — is, at last, the beginning of his real campaign.

I voted for Tony and wish him well. And I really, really, really wanted to squeeze sleazeball Jimmy Hahn out of office. But having to suffer through the disillusioning, depressing and disgusting excuse for a campaign we’ve just been through was a very high price to pay for watching Hahn get hosed away.

A last-minute surge of activist, motivated Villaraigosa voters drove the turnout to a notch over 30 percent. But make no mistake, millions of Angelenos long ago tuned out this mud match and didn’t even notice election day. Who can blame them?

Now that the votes are counted and a new mayor has been elected, maybe some authentic enthusiasm and energy can be generated. For if this mayoral contest had lasted a few weeks more, literally nobody would have been left to give a damn either way.

Not that Hahn and Villaraigosa share equal responsibility for the purse-swinging mutual-demolition match we have had to watch for the last couple of months. Hahn lived right down to our worst sewer-level expectations, on election day sending out an e-mail blast that asked voters to refrain from electing a candidate from the ACLU.

Villaraigosa had no alternative except to push back shove-per-shove. Unfortunately, he offered little except some future expanded Red Line that would “run to the sea” (over the dead body, of course, of his political ally Henry Waxman). Maybe this was a calculated rope-a-dope strategy, a wise political gambit to capture the center. Or maybe Tony just couldn’t quite find his footing as he struggled to reposition himself this second time around. Whatever the reason, Villaraigosa offered more the promise of reinvigorated leadership than a palpable example of such.

His victory Tuesday night was, nevertheless, an admirable and clear win for which he deserves full credit. But it would be a little self-deluding to claim that some overwhelming mandate has been achieved. None-of-the-above still beat out Villaraigosa and Hahn by a 2-to-1 margin. Nor did the city’s self-styled progressive coalition fare very well. Until the bitter end, the public employees union and the County Federation of Labor (the supposed motor of that coalition) were out there garishly whoring for a sinking Hahn, effectively endorsing his desperate last-minute smears. I’m not convinced by the predictions that once the dust settles Tony and the unions will patch it all up and move on. Villaraigosa, like any smart politician, is going to remember who stood with him and who stood with Hahn. Nor can it be lost on Tony that this is two mayoral elections in a row the Fed has lost, so it could be, like, “Get in line with everyone else, my union brothers.”

Antonio, meanwhile, won an unexpected two-thirds of the cantankerous and cranky Valley vote, a vote that was more alienated from Hahn (for all the wrong reasons, by the way) than it was enamored of his rival. We saw with what breathtaking speed Hahn’s African-American support evaporated. And much of that vote strayed, again, for less than noble reasons. Fault Hahn all you like (something I love to do), but recognize that his two greatest accomplishments — firing Bernie Parks and defeating Valley secession — are what cost him his two key constituencies. Let that be a warning to Villaraigosa as to how fickle his own electoral coalition might be.

Villaraigosa played it safe and sober, and the voters chose him mostly because they wanted some change, any change, from the uninspired course set by Hahn. Villaraigosa starts his tenure, then, with the bar set very high. If he should show any flagging whatsoever, he could face an implosion of support.

When Tony V. takes over his new office, he’ll have to bring in a couple of cartons’ worth of Glade to clear out the stench at City Hall. He’s also going to have to draw deeply on all his political skills if he wants to maintain the attention of those who voted for him and get at least the notice of those who have been left numb and cold by the sordid spectacle of the last few months.