May 23, 2005
How do you begin one of the strangest stories youve
ever seen involving corruption, politics, deceit, ego, misuse
of government funds, the whole enchilada, and get the media
to want to cover it?
Thats the dilemma I face as I write this column because
some of what Im about to tell you is so on the verge
of being unbelievable, that if I hadnt experienced it
myself, I would never believe it could happen in todays
Los Angeles, California has been both the butt of jokes as
well as the deserved admiration for being a place where dreams
come true, not just Hollywood movie dreams, but the American
dream that says if you work hard enough, you can succeed.
L.A. usually leads the way in national trends you know
the story no need to repeat it here.
Theres a lot of attention this week on our little burgh
because for the first time in 133 years, a Latino has been
elected Mayor. But it wasnt easy nor was it clean. Most
political experts will tell you it has been a long time since
a political campaign was so negative and so filled with racist
code words, that most people cannot bring themselves to believe
such racism still exists in such a progressive place as L.A.
But it did happen and Im going to help you understand
it and help you see how it was done with so much subtlety.
Last week I shared with you some of the behind-the-scenes
maneuvering that was taking place with our young people to
foment racial strife in the schools as a sort of preliminary
warning to voters that if they elected a Mexican-American
as Mayor, Blacks would suffer politically and economically,
the Mexican flag would be hoisted at City Hall, and the Stars
and Stripes would be trashed.
But I never expected the level of hate that became a part
of the election background and I never thought that the caretakers
of the Kenneth Hahn legacy would pull out all the stops just
to win an election.
Let me quickly give you the first example of racism so you
understand how difficult it has become for the media to expose
it. You see, we all know hate when we see it and it makes
us so uncomfortable as news purveyors, that we have to pitch
in a way that our readers and viewers and listeners will accept,
without the risk of being accused of sensationalism or hyping
the news for the May sweeps.
On Friday the 13th, four days before the election, Antonio
Villaraigosa was between 11 and 24 points ahead in the opinion
polls, depending on whether you believed the L.A. Times conservative
estimate, or you bought KABC-TVs bigger numbers.
Since it had become apparent Villaraigosa was going to win
the election, and Mayor James Hahn was using fear tactics
to solidify his voter base in the Harbor Area, where he sleeps,
it occurred to several of us that the people of San Pedro
and Wilmington deserved to know the truth.
Was Hahn correct in telling his followers that if he lost
the election, Antonio Villaraigosa would kill major projects
underway in the Port of Los Angeles communities? After 100
years of waiting for full access to the waterfront, was the
Bridge to Breakwater Promenade that would run eight miles
from the green Vincent Thomas Bridge to the federal breakwater
at Cabrillo Beach, going to fizzle in the hands of a Mexican-American
mayor? You may be thinking that was a preposterous question.
However, some of us who call the Harbor Area home, and have
lived there all our lives, decided we needed to ask Villaraigosa
directly, put him on the spot some suggested.
The smiling and vastly experienced candidate, whom Hahn liked
to derisively refer to as an empty suit with a big smile,
agreed to meet with his future constituents and take the hard
questions. And the audience was composed of both Hahn and
Villaraigosa supporters, since the object was not to change
voters minds about who they would support, but rather, get
a straight answer from the guy who said in his ads that his
love for L.A. (and the Harbor) and his plans for L.A. (and
the Harbor) came straight from the heart.
In a hotly contested campaign, that concept appeared to be
more than the incumbent Mayors sister could handle.
She is Councilmember Janice Hahn, who represents a very diverse
district running from the Port and the Harbor Area on the
South to Watts at the North end.
On city time and at YOUR taxpayer expense (if you live in
L.A.), Sister Janice and three of her staff members parked
themselves across the parking lot from the restaurant where
the breakfast meeting was to take place. It was an intimidation
tactic that caused some attendees to enter quickly fearing
that there would be repercussions for daring to express their
First Amendment rights of free speech to ask Villaraigosa
the hard questions.
When one of the bolder guests asked one of Council-Sister
Janices city-paid deputies about their not-so-covert
presence in the parking lot, he was told, We want to
see who the traitors are, suggesting that a local resident
asking the future Mayor tough questions was somehow a disloyal
act to Brother Jim and Sister Janice, and that there would
be a price to pay.
We have often interviewed sources who speak on the condition
of anonymity because they fear losing their job, a contract,
or something else of value from a vindictive politico. They
must have had the likes of Janice Hahn and her staff or Mayor
Jim on their mind when they expressed this fear.
Before I tell you about the even more bizarre event that
happened courtesy of Council Sister Janice Hahns staff,
let me say that the breakfast meeting went well, Antonio Villaraigosa
assured the attendees he would NOT do all the nasty things
the Mayor was touting. The Bridge to Breakwater project was
safe, and he shared with the assemblage memories of his Boy
Scout days when he had his first experience with the unique
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro.
He spoke fondly of those memories, of the drive from East
L.A. to the Harbor, about the importance of L.A. Harbor as
the major economic engine of L.A. and the rest of California
and the U.S. In case you dont know it, 40% of this nations
Gross National Product enters America through the ports of
L.A. and Long Beach, the largest port complex in the U.S.
ands third largest in the world.
After the breakfast, as the departing attendees thanked the
future Mayor for his frankness and plans, it became clear
that Villaraigosa needed to get on the road for an appearance
in the San Fernando Valley. As his LAPD security detail officers
drove away, the ultimate insult came flying out of the mouth
of Janice Hahns Wilmington deputy, Sergio Carrillo.
Wanting to show his loyalty to his boss, and her Brother
the Incumbent Mayor, he yelled at Villaraigosa, Get
out of here and go back to Mexico where you belong as
he added a few expletives that cant be printed here.
THAT is the depth to which Janice Hahn and her staff stooped
in the name of trying to get her Brother Jim reelected. I
believe it is that kind of mindset that permeated the campaign
on the part of the caretakers of the Kenny Hahn Dynasty. The
political legend must be rolling over in his grave
over and over.
The racist remarks by Mr. Carrillo (yes, even ignorant Latinos
can make racist remarks against people of their own ethnicity),
that Villaraigosa go back to Mexico had a certain irony. One
of us could have easily stopped to Carrillos level and
yelled back that the Hahns go back to the South L.A.
community where they were raised, and which they abandoned,
in order to seek political nirvana in relatively crime-free
San Pedro. Antonio, of course, isnt from Mexico, but
that fact was apparently lost on Janice Hahns Racist
The Council Sister had to back-peddle when a reporter asked
what she and her staffers were doing stalking the folks at
the breakfast meeting. She claimed they always meet at the
coffee shop in the area. Of course, those who regularly see
her at another coffee shop down the road a couple of miles
were shocked to read that excuse in the local newspaper, the
only one that bothered to pursue the issue.
The latent racism in this campaign was perhaps not as latent
as Villaraigosas opponents would have like to keep it.
There is an Election Day open chat thread on the Mayor-to-bes
website at www.Antonio2005.com
where you can see the racist comments that stem directly from
Jim Hahns hateful assertions that Villaraigosa is pro-gangs
There are a couple of posts that appear to be phony, where
one poster claims I am going to bang with
my bros when you win. AK47s listen at 10 or so. The
author claims to be Felix El Mas Macho which doesnt
make sense. Imagine an illiterate gang-banger posting
on a chat board about politics. Yeah!
One Hahn supporter posted: What (Felix El Mas macho)
said is exactly what I am afraid of now
..watch the Mecha
member go and the gang troubles get worse
help us all
We all know that racism still exists, but this election seems
to have brought out the worst in the white sheet klan from
the Hahn campaign. I have looked high and low for negative
posts about Caucasians placed by Latinos, attacking Jim Hahn
or his pigment-deprived supporters. No luck.
Los Angeles African-American voters were also warned
openly by Hahn that Villaraigosa was not their friend. Some
Blacks then openly pledged their vote to Hahn, predicting
that Mexican (Villaraigosa) is going to help his
people at the expense of Blacks. The mainstream media
didnt have any second thoughts about using those quotes,
but it had a hard time buying the notion that Hahns
continued references to Villaraigosa as pro-gang and pro-crime,
coupled with ads reprising the letter written on behalf of
convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali, and the slogan Los
Angeles cant trust Antonio Villaraigosa, were
Fortunately for Villaraigosa, the majority of African-American
voters decided they had had enough of Jim Hahn and found they
probably had more in common with Villaraigosas All Star
endorsers, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, former police chief
Bernard Parks, county supervisor Yvonne Burke, and former
L.A. Laker Magic Johnson.
The vast majority of White voters also found they were uncomfortable
with Hahns sleaze and decided to take a chance on the
former Assembly Speaker to take L.A. in a new direction. Villaraigosa
won 13 out of 15 councilmanic districts. In the two districts
Hahn won, his margin of victory in the North Hills area of
Councilmember Greg Smith was less than 1,000 votes. He did
much better in his Harbor Area base, winning by 7,000 votes
out of 27,000 total votes cast.
Still, the voters of Los Angeles, wanting change and a new
direction, and feeling that L.A. folks can arise above racist
political attacks, took a chance on a skinny kid from East
L.A. who will validate that those voters rose above the ugliness
of the Hahns, and the rest of us will never forget it or forgive
Antonio Villaraigosa will be great mayor, because of his
experience, his talent, and his unique skills, and not because
he is a Mexican-American. L.A will ultimately find that they
didnt vote for a Mexican, they elected a man who took
L.A. to heights that Jim Hahn could never envision, and he
happened to come from a Latino background.