As the campaign of City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa gathers increasing momentum, people who do business with City Hall are scrambling to get on board.


With unusual urgency over the past few weeks, business professionals, companies and their executives have been writing checks to the campaign, asking how they can raise funds or otherwise volunteer and establish personal contact with Villaraigosa's longtime friends and supporters.


"I've had clients call me and say, 'Hey, we're seeing there's a good chance that Antonio can win and we really want to be on board the Villaraigosa campaign,' and they are asking me how this should be done," said Jerry Neuman, a partner in the real estate practice of downtown L.A. law firm Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory LLP.


Such activity on behalf of the challenger underscores how much momentum has moved toward Villaraigosa and the doubts about whether Mayor James Hahn can be re-elected even though the typical pattern is for people doing business with the city to support the incumbent mayor.


Last week, sources with access to internal polls from both campaigns said Villaraigosa has widened his lead over Hahn since the primary, when he beat the mayor by 10 percentage points. The internal polls now show a margin ranging between 16 percent and 21 percent, the sources said.


Villaraigosa has also reeled in major endorsements from City Councilman Bernard Parks, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles; the L.A. County Democratic Party and state Education Secretary Richard Riordan.


"People are beginning to wonder whether the Hahn administration has run out of string," said Richard Lichtenstein, an L.A.-based political consultant who is not supporting either candidate. "They are seeing all these endorsements coming in for Antonio, especially from people who endorsed Hahn four years ago. It's causing people to say, 'Hey, wait a moment. Maybe I ought to get to know this Villaraigosa guy.'"


Neuman, who supported former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg in the primary but has not chosen sides in the runoff, said the number of inquiries have picked up in the last 10 days or so as endorsements have come in for Villaraigosa.


Calls like those led to a surge in fundraising for Villaragosa $653,000 in the first four weeks after the primary, according to campaign reports filed with the City Ethics Commission last week. Hahn's fundraising effort has lagged, with only $408,000 in the same period.

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