Pubdate: Sun, 03 Jun 2001
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2001 San Francisco Chronicle
Author: John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writer


Front-Runner's Ad Called Offensive As Election Nears

Los Angeles -- Although crime and public safety remain the major issues in 
Tuesday's mayoral contest, the politics of race are casting the longest 
shadow in an election that threatens to overturn the balance of power in 
the nation's second-largest city. Former Assembly Speaker Antonio 
Villaraigosa, an East L.A. high school dropout who became a force in 
Sacramento, symbolizes the growing political clout of the city's Latinos, 
who now make up nearly half of Los Angeles' population.

City Attorney James Hahn, on the job for 16 years, is white but has the 
solid backing of the politically powerful black community, which kept his 
late father on the Board of Supervisors for 40 years. Then there's the 
moderate-to-conservative coalition that elected Republican businessman 
Richard Riordan to two terms as mayor. While the outgoing Riordan has 
endorsed Villaraigosa, polls show that many of his backers still haven't 
decided how they'll vote. "Both candidates have been moving frantically 
toward the center," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political science 
professor at the University of Southern California.

Crack Pipe TV Ad

In a race that tight, a crack pipe might decide who will be the next mayor.

The crack pipe is featured in a controversial television ad by Hahn's camp. 
The ad slams Villaraigosa for seeking a presidential pardon for a convicted 
cocaine dealer whose father gave more than $6,000 to his campaigns.

While the ad's kicker -- "Los Angeles can't trust Antonio Villaraigosa" -- 
was a tough hit, it was the spot's image of a smoking crack pipe followed 
by a grainy picture of the former assemblyman that sent Villaraigosa and 
his backers ballistic. "Your campaign of fear has sunk to a new low," 
Villaraigosa wrote last week in a letter to Hahn. "Your ad drags Los 
Angeles into the gutter."

Speaking to reporters after appearing at a Van Nuys primary school 
Wednesday, Villaraigosa all but accused Hahn of playing the race card in 
the contest.

Visions Of Yorty

  "People all over the city are concerned about the tone and tenor of the 
Hahn campaign," he said. "Jim Hahn is running a campaign like Sam Yorty did 
30 years ago."

In 1969, incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty used a variety of race-baiting tactics 
to defeat Tom Bradley, who was vying to become the city's first black 
mayor. Four years later, Bradley beat Yorty in a race that brought a new 
level of political power to the city's black community.

Hahn has denied any racial intent behind the ad, but refuses to back away 
from it.

"His record is his record, and nothing I've said is inaccurate," Hahn said 
after a debate in East Los Angeles Tuesday. But the "soft on crime" tag has 
been used with deadly effect against liberal Democrats in the past and Hahn 
has worked hard to slap it on Villaraigosa.

Hahn, the city's prosecutor, has touted his endorsement from the police 
union. He has accused the former Assembly leader of blocking his efforts to 
get tough on gang members. And an Indian tribe with gambling interests 
spent $100,000 on a mailing that suggested Villaraigosa is not tough enough 
on child pornography. 'A CLIMATE OF FEAR' "Hahn is trying to create a 
climate of fear around my candidacy," Villaraigosa said.

According to the 2000 Census, 3,694,820 people live in Los Angeles -- 47 
percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, 11 percent black and 10 percent Asian. 
However, the electorate -- 1,538,229 voters as of January -- is 55 percent 
white, 22 percent Latino, 12 black, 10 percent "other" and 1 percent Asian.

In an election where the swing votes are likely to be older whites, scare 
tactics that attempt to paint Villaraigosa as a radical should come as no 
surprise, said Joe Cerrell, a veteran Democratic political operative in Los 

"I'm surprised (Hahn) waited this long to go with the ad," he said. "The 
purpose of the ad is to convince people in the (upscale, heavily white) 
west Valley that Villaraigosa is an ultra-liberal, ACLU, teacher's union 

Polls Have Hahn Ahead

The tactic may be working. Although Villaraigosa finished ahead of Hahn in 
the April primary, 30 percent to 25 percent, a Los Angeles Times poll 
released Tuesday showed Hahn favored now by 47 percent to 40 percent. 
Thirteen percent were undecided. A KABC-TV poll released Thursday had Hahn 
up 54 percent to 43 percent with 3 percent undecided. Villaraigosa's 
campaign polls show him with a narrow lead, although 15 percent of the 
voters were undecided.

The dustup over crime wouldn't be as noticeable if there were other policy 
disagreements between the two candidates, both considered liberal Democrats.

A Marked Difference In Style

At a debate at an East Los Angeles high school last week, the two men spent 
an hour agreeing with each other on the problems that face the city. Both 
candidates want more affordable housing, more city oversight of the school 
system, better bus service and improvements to the community's aging 
infrastructure. Hahn and Villaraigosa both talk about how their support 
spans all the city's neighborhoods, while dodging specific questions from 
communities complaining they're not getting a fair share of city services. 
What drives the candidates and their campaigns, however, is a marked 
difference in style.

"It's experience versus passion," Jeffe said. "Hahn's got the experience, 
and Villaraigosa has the passion."

In speech after speech, the 50-year-old Hahn talks about his background in 
government. He grew up in a political family and received a law degree from 
Pepperdine University. After four years as a deputy city attorney, he was 
elected city controller in 1981 and city attorney in 1985.

"He's a man who knows this city, every corner of it," Rep. Maxine Waters, a 
supporter, said.

As a stump speaker, Hahn sounds like a lawyer, making his case point by 
point, relying more on logic than excitement. That aura of calm can serve 
him well on the political trail. At a campaign event in West Los Angeles 
last week, he was answering questions from reporters when a van filled with 
protesters screeched to a halt. In seconds, he was surrounded by a dozen 
demonstrators, chanting loudly and waving signs saying "Shame" and accusing 
him of "crack pipe campaign tactics."

Hahn's expression never changed as he answered questions for another five 
minutes before walking slowly to his car. "It's hard to hold a conversation 
around here," he said. SPEAKING FROM THE HEART Villaraigosa, 48, is a man 
driven by his past. He talks continually about growing up on the city's 
east side, where he was kicked out of one high school, dropped out of 
another and ran into his share of problems before settling down and 
graduating from UCLA.

"I was a poster child for intervention," he told a crowd last week. "But 
someone took a second chance on me."

A union organizer before his 1994 election to the Assembly, he became 
speaker in 1998. His campaign slogan "Straight from the heart of L.A.," 
refers as much to his emotional campaign style as his origins in the city.

His emotion and competitiveness even extend to reading. At an appearance at 
a San Fernando Valley school last week, he challenged Mayor Riordan to see 
who could do a better job reading "Green Eggs and Ham" to a first-grade class.

Villaraigosa won in a landslide. One advantage Villaraigosa might have is 
his backing from Gov. Gray Davis and the state's Democratic power 
structure, as well as support from labor unions.

Both groups have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign 
and will have plenty of foot soldiers getting voters to the polls election day.
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