City Attorney defeats Latino state Legislator for L.A. Mayor
LOS ANGELES (AP) – James Hahn, a mild-mannered Democrat and longtime city attorney, will take the reins in Los Angeles after beating back an aggressive campaign by a man who had hoped to be the city’s first Hispanic mayor in more than a century.
Hahn, 50, won election Tuesday as the new mayor in the nation’s second-largest city. He received 54 percent of the vote in the runoff race to 46 percent for former state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, also a Democrat.
”I think I did a lot to unite this city in this campaign,” Hahn said at a Wednesday press conference. ”We had a broad coalition of people … from all the different ethnic communities of the city because I thought it was important to build that kind of coalition in the campaign because that’s exactly what we’re going to need to govern this city.”
Villaraigosa, 48, the son of a Mexican immigrant who grew up on the rough streets of East Los Angeles, caught the imagination of the city’s growing Hispanic population with his charisma and up-from-the-barrio story. His candidacy put a focus on the changing face of the city.
As a rising Latino political star, Villaraigosa also attracted the attention of national Democratic donors and drew endorsements from Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and outgoing Republican Mayor Richard Riordan. He led in the April primary and had a coalition that ranged from labor unions to millionaires.
But Hahn drew on his family’s deep political roots in the city and kept Villaraigosa on the defensive with a harsh campaign focused on public safety issues.
”In all campaigns it’s rough and tumble, and you have to be able to defend your record,” Hahn said Tuesday night. ”I know I was attacked on mine and I defended. I think it’s important for people to know the differences between the candidates. That’s what campaigns are all about.”
With all precincts reporting, Hahn had 293,273 votes to Villaraigosa’s 254,491.
Hahn, who takes office July 1, enjoyed high name recognition thanks to his years of city service and his late father, Kenneth, who served four decades as a county supervisor. Hahn’s sister, Janice, also triumphed Tuesday night, winning election to the City Council. He noted that his dad would have been proud of his campaign strategy.
”I have no question that he would have been. My dad was a tough campaigner,” Hahn said. ”He had some tough fights when he began. I looked at some of his old campaign literature. My campaign would have been mild compared to that.”
Hahn, who is white, had overwhelming support from the black community, which constituted his father’s base, and also succeeded in winning over many of the more moderate and conservative voters who backed other candidates in the primary.
Riordan, a wealthy businessman who has been in office since 1993, could not run again because of term limits.
With Hispanics on their way to becoming the city’s new majority population, Villaraigosa appealed to many as the face of the future as he vied to become the city’s first Hispanic mayor since 1872.
But analysts said he never recovered from a Hahn attack ad that used grainy images of a lit crack pipe and a razor blade cutting cocaine. The ad slammed Villaraigosa for a letter he wrote on behalf of a drug dealer whose sentence was later commuted by former President Clinton.
”Having a new L.A. is not a winning argument for a majority. You need something more than that,” said Raphael Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University at Fullerton. ”It’s an important piece of it, but it’s not enough, especially when your opponent is saying you’re soft on crime.”
In defeat, Villaraigosa said he looked forward to working with Hahn.
”I have no tears here, because I put every ounce of my being into this, because I wanted to make a difference,” Villaraigosa told supporters after conceding early Wednesday. ”I love you L.A.”
Hahn, too, reached out to his opponent.
”I want to honor my opponent, Antonio Villaraigosa, who brought such passion and energy and ideas into this race,” he said. ”I know that he made me a better candidate and I look forward to working with him.”
After running a campaign some considered racially tinged in a city with a history of racial unrest, Hahn also spoke Tuesday night of the need to unite Los Angeles.
”I’m committed to keeping the city of L.A. together and the only way we can do that is by earning the trust of every part of this city,” he said.
One of Hahn’s first tasks as mayor will be to quell a secession threat from the city’s San Fernando Valley, even as the city undergoes a dramatic demographic transformation.
Los Angeles lost 15 percent of its black population over the past decade while its Hispanic population rose 24 percent. With nearly 4 million residents, the city is now 11.2 percent black and 46.5 percent Hispanic.
In other races, Los Angeles voters chose:
-Former state Sen. Diane Watson, the first black woman to serve in the California Senate, to succeed Rep. Julian Dixon in the overwhelmingly Democratic 32nd Congressional District. Dixon died of an apparent heart attack in December.
-Five City Council members. Vying for one of those seats was former federal prosecutor Jack Weiss and former state legislator and ’60s radical Tom Hayden. The race was too close to call with Weiss receiving 25,550 votes to Hayden’s 25,261.
The city clerk estimated Tuesday’s turnout at 38 percent to 40 percent, well below the 45 percent turnout in 1993 during Los Angeles’ last mayoral election with no incumbent.
On the Net:
City of LA: http://www.ci.la.ca.us
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