The last days of the Richard Riordan mayoralty have borne a striking resemblance to the first scene of King Lear. Old Lear, you will recall, is stepping down and handing the kingdom over to his daughters — with the biggest piece going to the one who loves him most. Which is pretty much the game that the term-limited Riordan played for the last month, soliciting expressions of devotion, if not to him at least to his good works, from both Jim Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa. It wasn‘t apparent up to now, but clearly, Lear is a prophetic warning about the negative consequences of term limits.
Fortunately for Villaraigosa, Riordan has come up with a list of good works that the former speaker can embrace without contravening everything he’s stood for. On Wednesday of last week, when the mayor endorsed Villaraigosa, the project he was pushing was spiffing up parks at the rate of one spiff every two weeks, and Villaraigosa was happy to sign on.
Even so, the scene at the endorsement ceremony outside City Hall seemed a bit surreal — as much of this rapidly changing city seems these days. On 12 hours‘ notice, the Villaraigosa campaign had assembled nearly 500 supporters — stalwarts of labor battles, living-wage campaigns and sundry environmental crusades, almost all of which Riordan had routinely opposed — to cheer lustily for their guy and dutifully for his new number-one supporter. When Riordan finished his glowing introduction of his anointed successor, Villaraigosa bounded to the mike and boomed out, “Thank you, Mayor Riordan, for your many contributions to the future of Los Angeles.” The crowd applauded, though not demonstratively enough to satisfy Villaraigosa. “Louder!” he shouted, and they cheered louder.
Then it was on to the bus — one for the mayor, the former speaker and the media, with three additional buses for Villaraigosa’s legions — for a tour of the town. Somewhere on the westbound Ventura Freeway, I asked the mayor if Villaraigosa‘s opposition to the Police Protective League’s demand for a 3-12 shift (three work shifts of 12 hours each per week), which likely cost him the PPL‘s backing, had influenced his endorsement decision. “It was a factor,” Riordan replied, “though not the deciding factor.” Two days before, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, in his own endorsement of Villaraigosa, had also noted that he shared Villaraigosa’s unwillingness to go to 3-12 shifts.
The PPL‘s endorsement would have meant a lot to Villaraigosa, who needs to burnish his tough-on-crime credentials with conservative voters. But his reluctance to kowtow to the PPL — which was only made apparent by his failure to get its support — actually worked for him in three ways. It enabled him to outflank Hahn when it came to putting cops on the streets — something that the 3-12 shift hindered, Villaraigosa argued. It showed him standing up to a union and saying no. (Indeed, when former L.A. Times city editor Bill Boyarsky asked him in this Tuesday’s debate if he could stand up to a normally supportive interest group, Villaraigosa alluded instantly to the PPL controversy.) And by sounding tough and saying no to union buddies, Villaraigosa helped his cause with Riordan. Was ever such lemonade made from such a lemon?
As to the other factors in Riordan‘s endorsement, we can only surmise that the personal intermingled with the political. At the level of candidate-comparison, Villaraigosa certainly comes across as more the leader than Hahn, but surely that was just one of many reasons. During Riordan’s first term, Hahn had angered the mayor by blowing the whistle on Deputy Mayor Mike Keeley, for whom Riordan felt great affection, who‘d gone around Hahn’s back in an attempt to settle a lawsuit against the city. Riordan was compelled to let Keeley go, and was outraged and disconsolate.
In the run-up to his endorsement decision, Riordan was lobbied by close friends and associates. Bill Wardlaw, long his consigliere until they had a parting of the ways over the merits of Steve Soboroff (which Wardlaw didn‘t see), made the case for Hahn. Riordan’s business buddies, whom he‘d relied on to fund his special projects and school-board candidates — the billionaires boys’ club of Eli Broad, Ron Burkle, Haim Saban and Jerry Perenchio — argued for the former speaker. With his decision to back Villaraigosa, no one can say that Riordan is a traitor to his class.
As the Dick-and-Tony Express moved from downtown to Northridge to South-Central and back to midcity, the depth of Villaraigosa‘s backing once again became clear. Besides the crowd downtown and the 100-plus supporters who rode along in the buses, scores of Villaraigosa supporters turned out at each of the stops, despite the short notice and the fact that these were midday, midweek events. Hahn could not have mustered a similar display of loyalists had Riordan endorsed him. Outside of a core of supporters within the African-American community, his base lacks all intensity.
By the time the buses rolled into a South-Central park, the Hahn campaign was able to turn out a smattering of troops to show its flag. A couple of dozen staffers for elected officials who’d endorsed Hahn materialized to wave signs for Jimmy (or, as he‘s known in South-Central, James Kenneth Hahn). A dozen or so Latino young men, who seemed to have been hired for the occasion a few minutes previous, also brandished Hahn placards. But when the buses rolled to a stop and Riordan and Villaraigosa debarked, to the chant of “An-To-Nee-Oh! An-To-Nee-Oh!” from Villaraigosa’s cheering section, the young men — who‘d apparently not been prepped that An-To-Nee-Oh himself would be among them — joined in the chant and rushed over to shake An-To-Nee-Oh’s hand, the Hahn signs held discreetly behind their backs.
II. Saturday in the Hood With Tony and Jim
Within L.A.‘s African-American community, meanwhile, the contest for mayor has achieved an intensity that few predicted. Last Saturday, Hahn and Villaraigosa showed up at Crenshaw High for the campaign’s liveliest debate, before an all-black assemblage composed in good measure of rival claques come to cheer their guy and hoot the other. When it was done, the crowd had clearly emerged as the winner, with Villaraigosa a close second and Hahn a distant third.
Faced squarely with the challenge of allaying African-American anxiety over his candidacy, the former speaker was both impassioned and effective. After recounting his efforts, at age 15, to help organize the Black Student Union at Cathedral High, and to found the city‘s Black-Latino Roundtable 15 years later, Villaraigosa asserted, “I stand here because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I stand here because people died for my right to be here.” From King to Bradley to Villaraigosa; it was a masterful allusion to the meaning, and the logical progression, of civil rights in America.
The chief bone of contention in the debate — Hahn made sure of that — was the case for gang injunctions. He argued for a range of preventive strategies (after-school programs, job training and such), but insisted that injunctions were nonetheless necessary — that they “give communities an opportunity to breathe,” he said to a burst of applause. For his part, Villaraigosa actually favors the same two-legged approach, but his emphasis is often reversed. “It’s not just about gang injunctions; it‘s about investing in our children,” he told a pre-debate rally at his Crenshaw campaign office. “I want to live in a city where we look at young people not as ’the other,‘ but as people we value and invest in.”
These differences in approach are reflected in the candidates’ supporters — a rift that‘s easy to ascertain, what with the two campaigns’ South-Central headquarters occupying opposite corners of the intersection of Crenshaw and Coliseum. Inside the Hahn headquarters, an hour or so after the debate had ended, Dr. Perry Crouch, who works with at-risk youth in Watts, was fairly blazing at Villaraigosa. Prefacing his comments by noting that eight members of his family had been killed by drugs, he argued that “Gang injunctions are so we can go to the store, so we can cut down on the negative activity, if our youth are out there terrorizing and raping and carjacking and killing.” But across the intersection in the Villaraigosa headquarters, Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope — who himself has worked on gang truces and helping former gang members (of which he‘s one) go straight — disagreed. “The O.G.s [the original gangsters, the older members] just recruit younger kids to get around them [the injunctions]. What I love about Antonio is, he knows it’s not just injunctions; it‘s prevention.”
Ali is 35 — a generation younger than Crouch — and he positions himself smack in the middle of a generational divide. “Every Hahn supporter I talk to under 35, I’ve managed to swing their vote,” he said. “Over 35 . . .” His voice trails off. Hahn‘s leading African-American endorsers, as I noted two weeks ago, are a generation older than Villaraigosa’s big-name backers, and this generation gap is also apparent in a tour of the two headquarters. Both candidates have older volunteers, but the lion‘s share of the younger ones are on Villaraigosa’s side of the street. Much of Villaraigosa‘s South-Central canvass, for that matter, is specifically directed at voters under 40.
III. Sunday in Loveland with Antonio
Ali was hardly the only Villaraigosa backer using the “L-word” last weekend. “I love this man,” state Senator Sheila Kuehl told a crowd of 250 similarly inclined Antonio-istas at a fund-raiser Sunday in Brentwood. “This is the only straight guy in the gay parade.”
For the various distinct but sometimes overlapping progressive communities of Los Angeles — Brentwood civil libertarians, Echo Park enviros, the janitors of Sylmar and Boyle Heights — the Villaraigosa campaign is culminating in a paroxysm of activity, anticipation and affection. On Sunday, between speeches in churches and a synagogue, Villaraigosa made it to at least six events — including three fund-raisers — stretching from Chatsworth to Mount Washington. The venues differed, but at each was a core of activists who’d known him for a decade — or two, or three — as someone they‘d worked alongside in the cause of immigrant workers or police accountability or better racial relations. “I met Antonio when he walked into my office one night at 3 a.m.,” Connie Rice, the city’s leading civil rights attorney, told the crowd at the Brentwood gathering. “The next morning, we were scheduled to file a suit on behalf of the Bus Riders Union, but we still needed an intervenor to enable us to file. I said, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘I’m Antonio Villaraigosa, Gloria Molina‘s deputy on the MTA board, and I’m here to help you file your suit.‘”
“I don’t endorse politicians; I sue them,” said Rice. Then she endorsed Villaraigosa.
A passion gap has opened up between the two campaigns; it‘s a major reason why Villaraigosa is now clearly out-fund-raising Hahn. (A recent L.A. Times report showed Villaraigosa outspending Hahn 2-to-1 on TV commercials.) “When people gave to Hahn, it was ’have to‘ money,” says Villaraigosa consultant Ace Smith. “Before the primary, he was the inevitable winner; they had to give to him. When he stopped being inevitable, they stopped giving. Antonio gets love money. People give him money because they love him.”
The dichotomy’s not that neat, of course — Hahn has his love money, and Villaraigosa his special-interest donations — but there‘s no doubt that if the electorate were restricted to voters who care deeply for their favored candidate, Villaraigosa would win in a walk. The Hahn campaign doesn’t really contest this point — indeed, it seems to have substantially given up on selling its own candidate. Increasingly, Hahn‘s appearances and his commercials aren’t about Hahn‘s merits but Villaraigosa’s demerits, as the Hahn people characterize them. Tactically, one former state elected official remarked over the weekend, it‘s not a bad position to be in. “If the issue’s Antonio,” he said, “no one‘s going to be looking too closely at Jimmy.”
The key question of the campaign’s final 10 days, then, may be just how negative a campaign Hahn can get away with. By that standard, his campaign suffered a blow just this Wednesday, when District Attorney Steve Cooley issued a report concluding that operatives for Congressman (and primary-round mayoral candidate) Xavier Becerra and Council Member Nick Pacheco were responsible for a stunningly deceptive anti-Villaraigosa phone message that was delivered to thousands of households just before the primary. The message was from one “Gloria Marina”, which just happened to sound like Villaraigosa backer Gloria Molina, and accused him of voting for child molesters and rapists while in the Assembly. Becerra and Pacheco, not surprisingly, dispute Cooley‘s findings. (Cooley’s report, by the way, does not work wonders for Pacheco‘s campaign for the City Council presidency.)
Since the primary, Pacheco has endorsed Hahn, who plainly was a beneficiary of these and other anti-Villaraigosa slime jobs. With Cooley breathing down the necks of these operatives, however, it may prove more difficult for anyone to launch such attacks in the campaign’s final fortnight. Given the political evolution of the city over the past three decades, Hahn could not wage the kind of scare campaign that Sam Yorty ran against Tom Bradley even if his advisers wanted him to; he would have to subcontract it out. Now Cooley is circling all potential subcontractors; that cannot be good news for Hahn.
Villaraigosa has won the battle of foot soldiers (indeed, his campaign anticipates so large an election-night outpouring they‘ve booked a film studio to accommodate the crowd), but that’s something altogether different from winning the election. Hahn still has fear in his corner, which is ever a powerful motivator. “I believe hope always trumps fear,” Villaraigosa now tells crowds wherever he speaks. We‘ll see, soon enough.