Americas second largest city is about to get into a
very nasty campaign for Mayor and we may not be better off
We are all about to be challenged professionally by the upcoming
Los Angeles Mayoral run-off election and the experience will
test the mettle of all reporters and editors in all segments
of the media.
Politics is a game that operates buy its own rules and sometimes
the rules are made up as the campaign moves along. Most people
have an inkling of this, but for the most part, ignorance
seems to be bliss for a nation that regularly produces voter
turnouts below 40 and 50 per cent.
We apparently havent learned our lesson from the 68
per cent turnout in the Iraqi elections where the precious
right to vote meant people had to deal with bombings, shootings
and the like. They say we get the kind of government we deserve
and too often, that is so true.
The media has never really done a great job of covering local
and regional elections in Southern California. Usually we
get the same coverage of debates, charges and counter charges,
Election Day rhetoric, and election night party-watching at
some local hotel or theater.
Rarely do we see the real down and dirty ugliness that goes
on behind the scenes, and sometimes right in the face of voters,
because apparently the media decision-makers develop a new
moral sense of responsibility or ethics. Were probably
going to see a lot in this campaign that the media wont
want to talk about and that would be a major disservice to
For example, do you ever remember seeing a story in print
or on television news about elections in fairly well known
cities like Compton (birthplace of rap music) or Carson (home
to the pro soccer team, the Galaxy) where many of the political
mailers made blatantly false and extremely graphic sexually-oriented
allegations? Of course not! Although the media regularly reports
stories involving graphic nudity and violence, it wont
do it in an election involving race or ethnicity.
And that is exactly what is going to happen in the L.A. Mayors
There already is extensive discussion and debate behind the
scenes about whether affluent white voters will abandon the
idea of supporting Antonio Villaraigosa because he is a Mexican-American.
After all, the current concerns being raised about illegal
immigration come predominantly from white and conservative
voters. Theres also great speculation whether the African-American
community will, in the view of some, pick the lesser
of evils and support Jimmy Hahn over a Latino because
of the on-going conflicts involving the two poorest ethnic
minorities in L.A. and the perception by some that Latinos
(especially illegal ones) take away jobs from the community
both ethnic groups share.
Furthermore, we will probably see Hahn again introduce the
sleaze factor and attack Villaraigosa
in a way similar to 2001 in which most experts believe race
was a factor. Its obviously acceptable for both candidates
to attack each others political and legislative records,
but many in the media refuse to concede that Hahn has more
of an ability to attack an ethnic Villaraigosa than the Councilman
has to attack a white Mayor.
People remember and still cringe at the ad of four years
ago when Hahn, who was then the city attorney, rightly criticized
Villaraigosa's record as an Assemblyman but then launched
the most controversial attack of the campaign. Hahn highlighted
Villaraigosa's efforts, in a television ad, to seek consideration
of a presidential pardon for convicted crack cocaine dealer
Carlos Vignali. The ad featured images of a crack pipe and
grainy pictures of Villaraigosa, leading to charges of racism,
which Hahn has denied. Denial of truth is nothing new for
the Mayor. Hahn has repeatedly denied there is corruption
in his administration, although the investigations have led
to the resignations of a handful of deputy mayors and commissioners,
and have involved a public relations contract that has resulted
in the federal indictment of one of the PR executives.
Furthermore, a Hahn supporter has been fined by state elections
authorities for his role in funding the Hahn attack piece
on Villaraigosa. Hahn, who has reprised the Vignali pardon
issue in a television ad in this campaign, wont commit
to staying out of the political ad gutter in the runoff. He
has already said he would bury his runoff opponent
and has refused to disavow future negative ads, saying, "I
can't predict what will happen," he said.
Villaraigosa, who has acknowledged that he did not do enough
to counter Hahn's assault four years ago, will level his own
attacks based on the ongoing state and federal probes of City
Hall. The Councilman has given strong indications he is girding
for a fight and will respond accordingly.
But Hahn, having received the bad news on Election Day that
75% of the voters supported someone other than him, is under
fight or flight pressure to win. And desperate
people have been known to do desperate things. When any candidate
does that, it should be reported by the media, whether it
involves race, sex, blatant lies, and ugly truths, whatever.
Hahn is desperate to restore his standing among the San Fernando
Valley and city-wide white voters and regain the African-American
voters who backed him in 2001 but deserted him after he refused
to support another term for Police Chief Bernie Parks. Both
groups have since grown disenchanted with Hahns administration.
A majority of voters overall view Hahn unfavorably, according
to the L.A. Times, while about seven in 10 have a favorable
impression of Villaraigosa . This could blunt the impact of
any attacks the mayor plans to unleash on Villaraigosa between
now and the runoff election on May 17th.
The exit polls from the primary already show the public will
be less receptive to Hahn attacks, both because they know
and like Villaraigosa a lot better than they did four years
ago and they know and dislike Hahn a lot more than they did
four years ago.
Hahn has been given a pass by many media because of his nice
factor and they dont want to kick a guy when hes
down. But there is too much at stake in this election. Traffic,
pollution, public safety, a severely deteriorating infrastructure,
are all issues that hinge on who is elected and whether L.A.
grows in a positive way or becomes a major slum. Its
As a Republican, its always a tough call when you have
to pick between two Democrats. But this year the choice will
be easier for many of my ilk because we have seen the character
of both men and know their track records. Given the choice
between two liberals as the ONLY choice, Republicans will
almost always go with the better character and the candidate
who offers some hope.
The lack of enthusiasm for Hahn and growing Latino political
power will also probably make a big difference in the election.
In addition, the Harbor Area, which the media believes is
Hahns strongest base, is full of holes and open to Villaraigosa.
Some folks in San Pedro like to say that Hahn doesnt
LIVE in San Pedro, he only SLEEPS there.
That dig comes from the fact that Hahn has never been involved
in the port community and only moved there because it is safer
than the predominantly black area where he previously lived.
Such is the nature of politics in Los Angeles. The rest of
the country will be watching to see what happens in El Lay
on May 17th. Will the campaign help our image as an important
U.S. city or make us look even loonier?