No mistaking that the Emerald Bay Room at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel was headquarters of Hahn for Mayor. The only confusion was over which Hahn was running. The first two people I interviewed referred to Jim Hahn as Kenny Hahn before quickly correcting themselves — an understandable slip of the tongue. Even on election night, it was unclear whether the father or the son was the selling point.
“It was overwhelming how much respect people have for his father,” said African-American precinct-walker Glenn S. Brown. “And his son,” he quickly added. The father, of course, is the well-beloved but long-departed Kenny Hahn, who served for 40 years as a county supervisor, a white politician who built a defining base of black support. The mayoral candidate, City Attorney Jim Hahn, also has a long career as an elected official. But in this campaign, the younger never escaped the shadow of the elder. And in Round 1 of the race for mayor, that may have been a good thing.
“His father has done a lot for the community,” noted Gail Brown, a senior systems analyst for the city of Los Angeles. Brown, an African-American, was one of several interviewed who referred in the present tense to Kenny Hahn, who died in 1997. Brown lives in Altadena, so she could not vote for L.A.‘s mayor. But she volunteered to work the phones, and said she also procured for Hahn the votes of some 300 relatives: “I’ve got a large family.”
Family was enough to get through Tuesday‘s primary. Fittingly, African-Americans were among the largest contingents at the party, though the Hahn camp did a good job assembling for the TV news crews a Rainbow Coalition–style panorama of support.
“He is his father’s son, and he shouldn‘t run away from that,” noted Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a longtime Hahn-family ally. “And he is quite different from his father. Kenny Hahn was a politician who drove around on weekends looking for potholes to fix and trees to trim. Jim Hahn is an attorney who runs an office.”
Hahn’s temperament seems naturally calibrated to remain in the background. The night‘s most rousing speech was delivered by City Councilman Alex Padilla, who told that crowd, “We need a leader we can all rally around, a leader with a vision for this city, a leader with experience.”
Hahn was up next. He began by interrupting a mild but audible “We want Jim!” chant on just the 10th refrain with a calm, polite and soft, “You’ve got him here tonight.” He then spoke for about two minutes to the assembled, before making obligatory rounds along camera row. Each reporter got an exclusive, because Hahn spoke so quietly, just by habit, that his words were picked up only by the microphone directly in his face. Between interviews, Hahn greeted familiar faces warmly, conversing with a folksy charm that never quite shed an impression of both shyness and lawyerly detachment.
“We‘re going to make this a healthy city, Dr. Mays,” he said to one supporter. And to the crowd, “We’ve got all the great communities of Los Angeles represented here, and that‘s what this campaign is all about.” A vague platform to be sure, but an exact casting of how Hahn will have to expand his base to win in June.
Truth be told, the event had every appearance of a rough draft — or the preliminary time trial in an Olympic sprint. Organizers rallied supporters carrying signs so they would fill the background during live shots from the news crews. Some sign holders simply moved from camera to camera. The apparatchiks also herded attendees toward the portion of the room that was in front of the cameras. There was plenty of elbow space in the half of the small banquet room out of camera range.
The gathering included a number of Latinos, but one well-connected Latino developer, noted for his penchant for picking winners, steadfastly remained outside the hall, away from the TV crews. “I’ve taken a lot of heat from my friends for endorsing Jim Hahn,” he noted, plaintively requesting that his name not be used. He had endorsed Hahn a year ago, well before the campaign of Antonio Villaraigosa gained momentum.
But Councilman Padilla declined to backtrack. Hahn, he said, was someone he‘d worked with and grown to respect. Padilla credited Hahn with winning his support for the federal consent decree that will govern police reform. Maybe Hahn’s style was low-key, but “I prefer performance over personality.”
And Padilla, at least, was talking about Jim, not Kenny. As was anti-gun activist Ann Reiss Lane, who lauded Hahn for his support of gun-control measures. A pair of supporters even allowed a comparison between the Hahn brigade and the broad-based coalition of liberals and minorities that brought Tom Bradley to the Mayor‘s Office in 1973. At which point, another partygoer rolled her eyes, as if to say, “Hey I voted for the guy, but you’ve got to be kidding.”
Hahn supporter Olivia Fields issued a challenge as much as an endorsement: “His daddy did a lot. We want to make sure he continues to take care of the community.” And for Hahn to win: “He‘s got to make his point. He’s got to address some hard issues. He‘s got to step it up.”