While the headline-grabbers at last week's mayoral debate may have been all about law enforcement, the forum did provide a rare opportunity to hear the candidates' views on business-related issues.

In the first of six debates during this brief runoff campaign for L.A. mayor, City Attorney James Hahn and former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa answered questions from the co-sponsoring business organizations on everything from affordable housing to the clout of labor at City Hall.

Of course, as Hahn himself pointed out in a post-debate interview, the two candidates generally agree on most of these issues. Thus, he said, in a tight race, each of the candidates tries to focus on issues that sharply define their differences. And that's why issues such as a compressed workweek schedule for LAPD officers or gang injunctions took center stage.

But, when asked, the candidates did not shy away from business issues. And there were some differences. Take, for example, the issue of funding affordable housing.

"L.A. needs to do a better job of helping people to afford their own homes," Hahn said. "If necessary, the city may need to tap into the general fund."

In one of his more passionate responses of the evening, Villaraigosa said he favors a linkage fee on new development to help finance an affordable housing trust fund. "I've had the courage to stand up to some of those who say we shouldn't have a linkage fee and tell them we've got to get all of the stakeholders involved in the solution, including developers."

After the debate, Villaraigosa hastened to clarify his remarks when approached by this columnist: "While I support a linkage fee, I do not think it should be the sole source of funding for affordable housing. In fact, most of the funding should come from federal and state grants, which the city has not fully taken advantage of."

Perhaps the most surprising question came from David Honda, president of the Asian Business Association. He criticized the city's efforts to reach out to minority businesses, saying that all the outreach in the world means little when the city doesn't pay its contractor bills on time.

"If the city would just pay its bills like a normal business, within 30 days, instead of dragging it out for 90, 120 or even 180 days, I think you'll find more minority businesses willing to do business with the city," Honda said.

Both candidates danced around the issue. They each said they would take steps to make the city more friendly to business and speed up the permitting process. But neither gave the one promise that Honda was looking for: that its contractor bills would be paid within 30 days.

Riordan's Endorsement

Speaking of the mayor's race, Mayor Richard Riordan is expected to make his endorsement for his successor this week, possibly Monday, May 14. Both Hahn and Villaraigosa have been pulling out all the stops in their effort to get the popular Riordan's stamp of approval. With the candidates almost even in the polls, the feeling is that Riordan's endorsement could very well make the difference.

So far, Riordan has remained coy when asked about his endorsement. However, it should be noted that Hahn was sitting at the center of the front row at Riordan's State of the City speech last Thursday at the El Portal Theatre, a fact that Riordan himself pointed out in an aside during the speech. Villaraigosa was nowhere to be seen.

But then there's that rift between the Hahn and Riordan camps that developed during this long campaign and has been the subject of previous column entries. Furthermore, Riordan has just vacationed once again with billionaire businessman Eli Broad, who is one of Villaraigosa's strongest supporters.

Galanter's Presidential Bid

With the passing of L.A. City Council President John Ferraro, three council members are seeking to replace him as president at the start of the next council session in July: current president Ruth Galanter, Cindy Miscikowski and Nick Pacheco. Last week in this column, Pacheco outlined his goals. This week, it's Galanter's turn.

With term limits now really taking hold on the council, Galanter said that if she's chosen by her fellow council members to remain as president, she would use her institutional memory to help junior members learn the ropes.

"As of July 1, there will only be five of us on the council with more than four years' experience," Galanter pointed out. "The need for information transfer from those of us who have been here to those who are newcomers is acute. Part of the role of the council president is to act as a mentor. These newcomers will need to learn the art of getting things accomplished in the council."

And that applies even if the new council members include the likes of veteran lawmaker Tom Hayden. "One of the things that people with experience in other legislative bodies have learned is that the L.A. City Council has its own quirks that make it unlike anything they've ever experienced," she said.

As for the council president's most powerful task, making committee assignments, Galanter said she believes the Rules and Elections Committee will be next session's hottest committee. "That's where the decisions will be made on reapportioning the council districts," she said.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or at hfine@labusinessjournal.com.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.