A less experienced, more excitable campaign honcho than Kuwata might have betrayed at least a momentary desire to throttle the aide on the spot, but Kuwata soldiered on genially as if nothing had happened. “Maybe he votes for passage at the end of the day to cover himself,” Kuwata improvised. “And we‘re not saying he’s soft on crime. We‘re saying he has an outlook on criminal-justice measures that differs from most of the city of Los Angeles.”
Thus began one of the more distinctive law-’n‘-order campaigns in L.A.’s political history — distinctive because, while it is pitched to conservative voters whose own candidates didn‘t make the runoff, it comes from someone whose own base, the African-American community, is not always receptive to this kind of appeal. During his press conference, for instance, Hahn noted that Villaraigosa opposed the death penalty. When I pressed Hahn on his own position, he not only affirmed his support for capital punishment, but added that despite the questions raised by DNA testing of death-row inmates, “I don’t believe there‘s sufficient grounds for a moratorium on the death penalty.”
This position is totally at odds with that of many of Hahn’s leading endorsers; for a Representative Maxine Waters, say, this is surely pernicious nonsense. For this reason, and because concern about crime has receded some since Richard Riordan was elected eight years ago on a promise of more cops, Hahn‘s attack on Villaraigosa is more stiletto than sledgehammer. Hahn hurls the same charge against Villaraigosa that Sam Yorty leveled against Tom Bradley — that the officers of the LAPD could never accept his opponent as mayor — but insists that equating his campaign with Yorty’s racist endeavors is dirty pool.
Fair enough. Nothing in Hahn‘s campaign resembles the race baiting that Yorty engaged in to keep his hold on power. Then again, a great deal in Hahn’s campaign comes straight from the Yorty playbook on how to scare white voters about your opponent‘s commitment to law enforcement — and if that involves misstating or misrepresenting Villaraigosa’s votes, something Hahn did repeatedly last week, so be it. Yorty‘s full-throated demagogy is utterly absent from Hahn’s campaign; Yorty‘s incessant innuendo, however, is increasingly Hahn’s stock-in-trade.
The Hahn campaign is not content simply to dispute being characterized as Yortyesque. Kuwata also had the chutzpah to tell me that his campaign is as much in the Bradley mold as Villaraigosa‘s. Now, it’s certainly true that Hahn‘s support will cross racial lines, but there was more to the Bradley coalition than that. Bradley’s precise feat was to build a cross-town progressive alliance in which white voters supported a nonwhite candidate for mayor. The last time I looked, that description seemed to fit Villaraigosa‘s campaign more closely than Hahn’s.
A precedent exists for the kind of coalition that Hahn, with his new turn rightward, is trying to build, and it‘s not Tom Bradley. It’s Pete Wilson. If Hahn manages to win support from the African-American community and from Valley conservatives, he will have linked up two communities that have linked together just once before: in their support for Proposition 187, the 1994 immigrant-bashing initiative that Wilson backed to bolster his own re-election campaign. This would be no small political achievement, but I doubt Hahn‘s people will care to acknowledge the parallel.
The delicate balance Hahn is striving to maintain was evident at Parker Center in the last-minute alterations City Councilman Nick Pacheco made to his statement endorsing Hahn. The choice he’d faced, Pacheco‘s written statement read, was between “an extremely liberal Democrat, Mr. Villaraigosa, and a ’law and order‘ Democrat, Mr. Hahn.” When Pacheco spoke, though, he amended “law-and-order Democrat” to “law-enforcement Democrat.” No point getting carried away.
Besides, Pacheco’s endorsement was plenty contentious no matter how it was phrased. Standing alongside his City Council colleague Alex Padilla, who‘d already endorsed Hahn, Pacheco was effectively announcing an irreparable rift in Latino politics in Los Angeles.
In one sense, this rift is nothing new. For the past half-decade, even as the old Richard Alatorre–Gloria Molina wars have receded into history’s mists, a new chasm has been opening between those pols aligned with L.A.‘s new-model labor movement — Latino-led and able to mobilize thousands of foot soldiers from Latino-dominated unions (chiefly, the janitors and hotel workers) — and those aligned with other patrons. But opposing the first serious Latino candidate for mayor since the mid–19th century takes factionalism to a new plane. The more so since Villaraigosa handily carried both Padilla’s and Pacheco‘s districts in the primary, and is sure to win them overwhelmingly in the runoff.
For Pacheco, some of this is simply payback: Villaraigosa supported his opponent when he first ran for the council two years ago, and in this year’s primary, Pacheco supported Xavier Becerra. The personal dynamics in Padilla‘s case are a bit more complicated: He’s closely allied with Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, whose east Valley district overlaps his own, and Cardenas has been gunning for Villaraigosa ever since Villaraigosa supported Bob Hertzberg rather than Cardenas to succeed Villaraigosa as speaker.
But if Padilla owed Villaraigosa nothing, he virtually owed his career to Villaraigosa‘s foremost supporter: the County Federation of Labor. “We expected more from Padilla than Pacheco,” says County Fed leader Miguel Contreras. “To be fair to Pacheco, he wasn’t our candidate” when he ran for council two years ago. “No one thought we had a long or meaningful relationship with him. But Padilla — we did a tremendous amount of walking, phoning and mailing for him [when he first ran for council two years ago]. He was not favored to win the election, until hundreds of janitors and hotel workers turned out to walk for him.
”Now, those janitors and hotel workers feel betrayed by someone they helped elect less than 24 months ago. For Padilla to go against their candidate, to have no discussion with anyone in labor about endorsing Hahn, not to have the decency to call the janitors‘ and hotel workers’ unions to explain his position — people assume there‘s a lack of respect for all those workers who came out for him.“
It’s not that the dynamic duo is devoid of all deference: Pacheco and Padilla have happily done Mayor Riordan‘s bidding for the past several years. Pacheco first came on the scene in 1998, as a member of the elected Charter Reform Commission. There, recalls USC constitutional-law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, who chaired the commission, ”He was a very conscientious and hard-working member. In December of 1998, though, when the mayor was pressuring the elected commission to oppose melding our efforts into a single charter [with that of the other, appointed Charter Reform Commission], the mayor offered to endorse Nick [for City Council]. From that point on, Nick always voted to support the mayor’s position on the charter commission.“
This pattern has carried over, on the whole, to Pacheco‘s tenure on the council. As for Padilla, his votes have usually reflected the perspectives of the mayor or late council President John Ferraro. Both Padilla and Pacheco, for instance, were among the last council members to support the LAPD’s consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department — even though the consent decree had been placed on the city‘s agenda by the LAPD’s abuse of their own constituents. Apparently, standing with their sponsors in the ancien regime mattered more to them than standing up for the interests of their districts.
Now, with Ferraro dead and Riordan leaving office, they have fixed their stars to Jim Hahn — whose campaign capo, attorney Bill Wardlaw, was Riordan‘s deal maker with charter commissioners back when Pacheco joined the mayor’s stable. Plainly, they are more comfortable cutting deals with the old order than they are championing the new — even though that new order, the labor-Latino alliance, has done more to better the lives of their constituents in the past five years than the city‘s old-guard power elite has in the past hundred. How they explain all this to their constituents will be interesting indeed.