James Hahn pulled down more than 80 percent of the African-American vote in his election victory earlier this month, the highest proportion of a single ethnic block in Los Angeles. Without such support, he might have lost.

Now it's payback time.

Jubilant about Hahn's victory, many in L.A.'s African-American business community are optimistic that their years of slow and steady decline will begin to be reversed in the new administration.

"The mood out there now is one of elation and euphoria," said African-American commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

"The feeling is that Hahn is someone who will be sympathetic to the African-American business community and the African-American community in general. The halls of power will be more open to African-Americans."

As the Hahn administration begins, black business leaders will be looking at three broad areas to gauge their prospects:

- The number of appointments of African-Americans to city commissions and other staff posts;

- How much additional effort is made to reach out to black-owned contractors seeking to do business with the city; and

- The degree to which additional funds and projects are funneled to economically depressed black communities.

In a statement to the Business Journal last week, Hahn did not address specific issues involving African-Americans, other than to say, "Magic Johnson, Chris Hammond, Keyshawn Johnson and Jan Howroyd are great examples of businesspeople who understand the benefits of investing in our communities," referring to prominent local African-Americans. "They put their money where their mouth is and I am going to be urging others to follow their lead."

No one expects instant progress in all of these areas. As mayor of the most ethnically diverse major city in the U.S., Hahn faces a delicate balancing act. Blacks, after all, make up only 11 percent of the city's population. Any disproportionate rewarding of African-Americans is bound to arouse charges of favoritism from other ethnic groups, particularly Latinos, who are on the verge of becoming an absolute majority in the city. Yet that hasn't dampened expectations of black businesses.

For one thing, they expect more access at City Hall.

"There's no question that we're excited about getting our calls returned immediately from the mayor's office," said Mark Whitlock, executive director of FAME Renaissance, the economic development organization associated with the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South-Central L.A.

Black business leaders also want to see Hahn do more than previous administrations to include blacks on their decision-making teams and contracting policies.


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