Magic's Mayoral Aspirations Must Go Beyond Race


A few days after the election of James Hahn, many chuckled at Earvin "Magic" Johnson's quip that he would run for mayor if Hahn didn't deliver on his promises to black voters. They aren't laughing any more. Magic and black leaders are determined to nail Hahn for not backing a second term for LAPD Chief Bernard Parks. And Magic thinks he can parlay support from Gov. Gray Davis, whom he endorsed and promised to campaign for statewide.

While a recent poll shows that he has a higher favorable rating than Hahn, celebrities and sports figures generally make terrible politicians. Those who take the political plunge find it's one thing for people to heap adulation on them and another to vote for them when they actually become candidates.

While former President Ronald Reagan, ex-U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley and ex-Rep. Jack Kemp made the improbable leaps, they are rare exceptions. And they spent years convincing the public that they could deliver the goods. Magic must do the same and more.

He must first shatter the perception that as mayor he would exclusively cater to black interests. It would be political suicide for him to be seen as the "black candidate" in a city where blacks comprise less than 20 percent of the voters. That number almost certainly will shrink in the next three years.

He must then articulate a vision of change and growth for L.A. and fashion that vision into a political agenda that addresses the needs and interests of Latinos, Asian Americans and whites. He must follow the path of Tom Bradley and pledge to make diversity his standard for governing a city as big and complex as Los Angeles.

Also, voters expect their elected officials and leaders to be visible and take bold, public stands on the issues, especially big-ticket issues. In L.A., the three biggest issues are LAPD reform, secession movements and failing schools. Hahn and former mayor Richard Riordan stumbled over these thorny issues. Magic could too.

Take secession. Magic will have to figure out how to push the City Council into handing over real power to neighborhood councils, come up with a timetable for improving Valley and Harbor area services, and assure secession backers that City Hall is not working against their interests. At the same time, he must appease the solid majority of blacks and Latinos who oppose secession movements for fear it will reduce funds for neighborhood services and school improvements.

Magic also will find it hard to wrestle with LAPD reform. He must specify what he'll do to boost morale within the department and strengthen the Police Commission and the inspector general post.

And Magic must do what Riordan attempted to do in turning the mayor's office into a bully pulpit to prod L.A. Unified school officials to reverse the district's miserably low student achievement level. He must be prepared, as Riordan was, to put his political muscle and money behind school board candidates committed to education reform, and aggressively lobby state and federal officials for more money for school improvements.

Magic will have to tell the voters how he will be a better mayor than Hahn. He has three years to do that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. He can be heard on KPFK Radio, 90.7FM, Tuesdays, 7-8 p.m.

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