by Earl O’fari Hutchinson
At a mid-April press conference at the LAPD’s Davis training Facility in Granada Hills, Mayor James Hahn defiantly told reporters that he doesn’t put much stock in the polls. Hahn said that he conducts his own "insta-poll" and that poll tells him that people throughout the city are going to vote for him. Hahn didn’t say whom he talked too, and why they were so enthusiastic about voting for him. He’d better hope his insta-poll is more accurate than the real polls. He doesn’t trail challenger, L.A. city councilman Antonio Villaraigosa in the polls, he’s getting massacred by him in them. Villaraigosa tops him by anywhere from 18 to 32 percentage points. A probe by L.A County DA Steve Cooley into alleged pay for play Florida campaign contributions to Villaraigosa probably won’t dampen voter enthusiasm for him. Hahn has been dogged to badly by ethics probes into his campaign to make any real political hay out of this. Villaraigosa has racked up key endorsements from the city’s top politicians, business and community leaders. He has raked in more campaign bucks than Hahn. He has ignored Hahn’s mudslinging attacks and has looked and sounded like prime mayoral timber. By any standard the race has turned into a route.
But Villaraigosa is not a shoo-in. Hahn is a tough, savvy political infighter. The polls showed him losing to Villaraigosa in 2001, but he still won by 40, 000 votes. Hahn, however, wasn’t the mayor in 2001. He was a contender. He had plenty of money, his dad’s good name, and a long, credible record as a city official. Then he dragged no political baggage into the campaign. This time it’s different, much different. The universal rule of thumb in American politics is, whether the race is for a national office or a local one, if the incumbent is barely above comatose, and is not under indictment, or tainted by an outrageously sordid sex scandal, the incumbent has a lock on reelection. So why doesn’t Hahn? Voters want, expect, and deserve that their elected officials and leaders be visible and take bold, public stands on the issues, especially the big-ticket issues. In Hahn’s case that meant laying out his vision of where the L.A. was going. That’s absolutely crucial in a city beset by nightmarish traffic gluts, commercial over- development, rampaging gang violence, horrendous pollution, miserably failing public schools, and a City Hall seen as distant, removed and even hostile to residents. Hahn had four years to lay out his vision of progress and change. He didn’t.
In his state of the city address, he touted his accomplishments in getting neighborhood councils up and running, more libraries, and cutting crime, but neighborhood councils and increased funding for new libraries came on former Mayor Richard Riordan’s watch, and crime has plunged locally and nationally anyway. His boasts sounded like hollow 11th hour campaign puffery.