Was up all night Tuesday into the Wednesday dawn covering the L.A. Mayor’s race—specifically the candidacy of Bob Hertzberg, a former Assembly Speaker.
Turns out the May 17 run-off will be a rematch from four years ago. Incumbent Jimmy Hahn versus councilman (and also former Assembly Speaker) Antonio Villaraigosa.
Final results give Villaraigosa 33% and Hahn 23%. Hertzberg scored 22% coming within a whisker of dumping Hahn out of the run-off. Former LAPD Chief Bernie Parks took about 14%, mostly all African-American. All the major candidates are Democrats.
Fog settled into the L.A. basin as the polls closed, grounding the choppers that ferry ballots from the boonies into downtown and that snafu prolonged the count into the wee wee hours (sabotaging a scheduled surf fishing trip of mine).
L.A. politics are such that voter turn-out was a meager 30% or less. In a sense, the real campaign begins today after the field has been winnowed to two.
Hahn’s finish with less than a quarter of the votes is a miserable embarrassment for an incumbent. But then again, Hahn is a miserable embarrassment as a Mayor. Soporific, remote, dull and enmeshed in several pay-to-play scandals.
But Mayor Jimmy’s one helluva campaigner, a real shameless street-fighter and everyone agrees we are about to see a bloody rumble between him and his challenger. We did in 2001 when both men vied for the spot left open by Dick Riordan. Hahn finished up with a racially-tinged smear campaign against Villaraigosa--- and won with 53% of the vote.
Much has changed since then. Much has not. It’s reasonable to expect certain racial sub-themes to emerge in this match. With no conservative or Republican in the race, Hahn is the natural to pander to the white suburban vote. Villaraigosa, according to exit polls, has made some inroads into those communities since the last round. But a winning strategy for Hahn must aim to polarize the voters – or he has no chance.
In 2001, Villaraigosa was an unabashed progressive-liberal who spoke in grandiose terms of building a New Los Angeles. During this just concluded campaign, he muted much of that liberal rhetoric and projected a warm and fuzzy image, quoting platitudes about JFK. The new posture left a lot of L.A. liberals wondering where the old fire went and if it would re-ignite in the coming run-off campaign.
Excuse me for being cynical bu there are some deliciously amusing aspects that I’m looking forward to watching. Mostly, just how nasty will Mayor Hahn get to hang onto his seat. Also, the county labor federation – long a Villaraigosa supporter (who is also a former union organizer) —went with Hahn this time. Some old fashioned pork barrel politics (garishly dressed up as a “progressive agenda”) allowed the labor folks to clamber into bed with Hahn. Now they’re stuck with him--- meaning they will have the privilege of financing the coming Hahn campaign smears against their former union compadre, Villaraigosa.
Ain’t politics wonderful?
UPDATE: Here is my color report filed on election nite from Hertzberg headquarters as now published in L.A. Weekly. My colleague Rob Greene checks in from the Jimmy Hahn
survival victory party. And Jeff Anderson reports from the Villaraigosa camp.