With their favorite son knocked out of the mayor's race for the second time in a row, Los Angeles-area business leaders were already gravitating toward Mayor James Hahn last week, despite the stronger electoral showing from City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.


Less than 48 hours after squeaking into the runoff ahead of former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, Hahn picked up the biggest business endorsement: the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. That came on top of earlier endorsements from the Central City Association, several of the city's leading developers and other prominent business leaders including billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad.


Villaraigosa, meanwhile, is trying to overcome his image as a supporter of labor. No business executives have endorsed Villaraigosa; his contributors include high-tech entrepreneur David Bohnett and shopping center magnate Peter Lowy, among others.


Given his convincing first-place finish in the primary and a general disenchantment with the Hahn administration, Villaraigosa is considered to have a chance to gain significant support in the business community.


"You've got an incumbent who received just 24 percent of the vote. A lot of people may conclude that he just can't win with that kind of percentage and will hedge their bets with contributions to both candidates," said Lisa Specht, a land use attorney with Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP. Specht resigned her post as a city commissioner last year to join the Hertzberg campaign.


The key, Specht and others say, is whether Hahn can show he's moving up in the polls or can generate some other positive momentum.


Both Hahn and Villaraigosa are expected to make a push for Hertzberg voters, especially business supporters. Hahn won those votes in the runoff four years ago, but this time Villaraigosa has made gains in the Valley, winning two council districts outright.


Some Hertzberg supporters may go along with whomever Hertzberg decides to endorse. Others will use the opportunity to re-evaluate their views.


The same could be true on a smaller scale for supporters of L.A. City Councilman and former Police Chief Bernard Parks, who placed a distant fourth in the primary.


"The natural inclination of business is to support the incumbent," said Larry Kosmont, an economic development consultant. "But a lot of businesspeople won't automatically do that. They felt that the last four years have not produced sterling results for business."


Lack of focus


The choice is made more difficult because neither candidate made economic concerns a top priority in their campaigns.

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