Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn on Tuesday became the first sitting L.A. mayor to lose a re-election bid since Tom Bradley ousted Sam Yorty 32 years ago, losing to city Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa in a lopsided vote.
Hahn's defeat also marks the first time an incumbent mayor was ousted after only one term since 1933, when Frank Shaw defeated John Porter. It also ends Hahn's is remarkable string of six citywide election victories: one for the city controller post, four for city attorney and the last one for mayor in 2001.
Tuesday's rebuke by voters is also the first time a member of the politically active Hahn family has lost a bid for political office in more than 50 years. Hahn's father, the legendary Kenneth Hahn, won election 10 times to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors before retiring in 1992; Hahn's sister Janice was just re-elected to a second term on the L.A. City Council. Now Hahn must ponder life outside elected office for the first time in 24 years.
Hahn inherited his father's knack for pothole politics but not his glad-handing style. Detractors often fault Hahn's style as passive and uninspiring.
The mayor answered critics by saying Los Angeles has enough movie stars and that people should recognize his efforts to revitalize the Los Angeles Police Department, fight off secession drives and improve basic city services.
By the traditional measurements of city politics, Hahn should have had little trouble winning reelection. Crime is down and the local economy is showing relative strength, with several parts of the city most notably downtown and Hollywood in the midst of development booms.
But Hahn had a difficult time galvanizing the electorate, despite the power of incumbency and the support of organized labor. His critics said he was disengaged and lacked vision and passion a perception fed by investigations under way into the city's contracting practices.
In the days before the election, Hahn's approval rating had sunk to 38 percent. He alienated voters among the two bases crucial to his 2001 victory: blacks in South L.A. and conservative-leaning white voters in the San Fernando Valley.
In February 2002, he chose not to seek renewal of police chief Bernard Parks' contract, prompting an outcry from the African American leaders. Although Parks' successor, William Bratton, has proven popular, the resentment lingers: After winning 80 percent of the black vote in 2001, Hahn lost nearly every major endorsement among African American political and civic leaders.
Also in 2002, Hahn led a bitter campaign against the San Fernando Valley's secession from Los Angeles. Secession was defeated but the experience lost him many Valley votes.
Yet Hahn probably could have survived his re-election bid had it not been for investigations into city contract awards and questions about the role of city commissioners as fundraisers.
The probes started after City Controller Laura Chick turned over material on contract decisions at the airport department to the District Attorney's office. Essentially, the question boiled down to whether Hahn appointees were awarding contracts to companies that made political contributions to him or the anti-secession effort.
The probes quickly spread to the port department and the city Department of Water & Power, eventually drawing in the FBI. Public attention focused primarily on airport commission president Ted Stein and deputy mayor Troy Edwards, both prolific Hahn fundraisers.
The unfolding investigations hurt Hahn's reputation.
"The irony is that this is a guy most people thought had some of the highest integrity in politics. Others may be more charismatic or energetic, but he had that perception of honesty," said George Kieffer, former chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Hahn's policy and economic adviser during the early days of his administration.
Hahn was slow to respond to the investigations, repeatedly saying that no allegations of wrongdoing had been proven. Finally, after more than four months of mounting pressure, Stein resigned and Edwards left the Hahn administration in the spring of 2004.
But by then, the damage had already been done. Despite a massive campaign war chest, Hahn was suddenly perceived as weak and vulnerable.
In April 2004, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg jumped into the race, followed by Parks, now a city councilman, the next month. Villaraigosa entered the fray in August.
Suddenly, what was once regarded as a cakewalk for Hahn became a hard-fought contest. With the lively Hertzberg and Villaraigosa now in the race, Hahn's bland presence began to work against him. Hahn was increasingly compared to former Gov. Gray Davis, who was ousted in the 2003 statewide recall election that brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to power.
New allegations of overbilling the city by public relations giant Fleishman Hillard led in late 2004 to the only indictment to date, of former Fleishman executive John Stodder.
Hahn squeaked into the runoff ahead of Hertzberg, but by the time the runoff came around, the perception of corruption in the Hahn administration was firmly entrenched. Revelations of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Villaraigosa campaign from Florida interests only created a slight dip in support for Villaraigosa.
Hahn tried to turn the runoff into a referendum on Villaraigosa's voting record on public safety issues. But unlike in 2001 when Villaraigosa's campaign was devastated by a Hahn ad pointing out he had sought clemency for a convicted drug dealer Hahn's charges didn't stick this time.
Instead, the election proved a referendum on Hahn. In the end, voters believed Villaraigosa spoke better to an overall vision of L.A., even if he was vague on the details.
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