There's no doubt that former basketball star-turned businessman Earvin "Magic" Johnson emerged as one of the biggest winners in this month's city elections. Not only did he support and then introduce James Hahn to the world as the new mayor of Los Angeles, but the other citywide candidate he backed, Rocky Delgadillo, pulled off an upset victory over Mike Feuer for the city attorney post.
Buoyed by his political success, the former Lakers superstar is toying with the idea of running for mayor himself. He made a casual remark to that effect on election night, which was overlooked by most of the media.
But last week, in an interview on KCAL Channel 9's News at Ten, Johnson discussed the subject seriously. He said he was going to watch Hahn's performance over the next four years closely and that if he feels Hahn isn't doing a good enough job, he might throw his hat into the ring.
"If you thought I was good at basketball, I'm even better at holding people accountable for what they say," Johnson said, referring to Hahn's campaign promises.
He was even asked whether his HIV-positive status would turn off potential voters. "I don't think so," he said. "People already know about it. After all, I came out 10 years ago. They know it's part of who I am."
Despite his impressive track record as a businessman and inner-city developer, it seems few are taking Johnson seriously.
"Earvin is a phenomenal cheerleader and is a hero to the business community," said local political observer Richard Lichtenstein, whose firm often lobbies City Hall. "But it's a long way from that to actually seeking and winning elective office."
Lichtenstein was representative of many who first heard about Johnson's political aspirations last week.
One City Hall watcher who knows Johnson and his family said that his wife, Cookie, would probably try to dissuade him from running if he ever really became serious about it.
Lichtenstein had his own theory for why Johnson has floated this trial balloon.
"It may be that he's saying to Jim (Hahn) that 'You made a lot of promises during the campaign and I'll be watching to see that you deliver on them,'" Lichtenstein said.
In fact, that theory was lent credence from the Johnson camp itself.
"Earvin takes his endorsements seriously and he's really holding Jim Hahn accountable," said Ken Lombard, president of Johnson Development Corp., Magic Johnson Theatres and Johnson's point man for his business dealings. "He fully intends and hopes that this will be a non-issue. He believes Jim Hahn can be one of the greatest mayors the city has ever had."
But, Lombard said, "if at a later date Hahn or another mayor is not acting in the best interests of the city, he would be interested in running (for mayor) at that time."Hahn Addresses Chamber
Meanwhile, Hahn made one of his first community appearances last week, speaking briefly to the board of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.
Hahn thanked the chamber for endorsing him and then asked for the chamber's help in meeting his goal of creating after-school programs at every L.A. Unified School campus within the next five years.
The fact that Hahn chose the chamber to make one of his first public speeches outside of City Hall or a press conference setting was not lost on chamber officials.
"It shows that he took our endorsement very seriously and will pay attention to business issues," said Anita Zusman, the chamber's vice president of legislative affairs.Riordan Roast
It may have been somewhat sparsely attended because of its inadvertent scheduling opposite Game 4 of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers, but the media's roast of outgoing Mayor Richard Riordan was nonetheless entertaining.
Riordan's staff gave former President Clinton a run for his money with a gag video showing Riordan trying out for several jobs as he leaves office. He tried his hand at everything from Lakers basketball forward to bus driver to Superintendent of Schools.
Then KCAL Channel 9 reporter Dave Bryan took the opportunity to read some letters sent in for the occasion:
"'Mayor, others may forget, but we will always remember you. We have no choice,' signed by employees of the L.A. Central Library;" and "'Mr. Mayor, best of luck. Sorry you're leaving the mayor's office. We think you would make a great TV newsman,' signed Bill Jones, Bill Simon Jr. and Jerry Dunphy." (Jones and Simon have declared their intention to seek the Republican nomination for governor; Dunphy is a television news anchor.)
Riordan himself couldn't resist taking a shot at his potential opponent should he decide to run for governor, Gray Davis. "I think a person's first name defines who they are. Now look at Gray Davis " Riordan said.
Staff Reporter Howard Fine can be contacted by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227 or by e-mail at hfine@labusiness journal.com.
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