There was talk that the 30-year-old son of the revered county supervisor, Kenneth Hahn, would run for governor someday. "Because of his name, everybody will be watching with high expectations," said Nate Holden, a future city councilman who was a Hahn campaign advisor at the time.
Seven elections and 24 years later, the politician with the magic family name has become the first one-term mayor of Los Angeles since the Great Depression.
To Hahn's supporters, his historic loss Tuesday was a sad end for a decent man who courageously sacrificed his political future for the sake of the city, alienating crucial voters with his campaign against San Fernando Valley secession and his move to oust the city's second black police chief.
But Hahn's defeat also marked the fall of a mayor whose administration was tarnished by criminal probes and accusations that he created a "pay to play" culture in City Hall.
And it reflected the repudiation of a leader who never really connected with Angelenos at a time when voters were looking for more than an understated technocrat. "Voters have a different expectation of their leaders today," said Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, describing a political climate transformed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, another bland, low-profile politician whose fundraising activities irked voters.
"Voters want someone who is going to be looking out for them. I don't think he was able to demonstrate that," Sragow said of Hahn.
Battling Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa through the two-month runoff, Hahn portrayed himself as a tough-minded reformer who rejuvenated the Los Angeles Police Department in his first term and would rescue the city's ailing public schools in his second.
Instead, voters saw an introverted chief executive whose frenetic campaigning couldn't disguise his inability to tackle some of the city's most stubborn problems, such as traffic and failing public schools.
"I look at New York or San Francisco, at mayors who are doing things," said Michele Gillman, a 48-year-old wedding consultant from Sunland. "We feel like we don't have a mayor."
It is a particularly cruel epitaph for a man who entered politics under the tutelage of the widely acclaimed king of grass-roots politics in Los Angeles.
In a record 10 terms on the county Board of Supervisors, Kenneth Hahn became a legend for his common touch and for the fierce loyalty he engendered in his constituents, including the African American community of South Los Angeles.
The supervisor — a politician who, it was said, wouldn't miss the opening of an envelope — was a constant presence on the streets of his district, where he ministered to those who needed potholes filled and funerals financed.
Kenneth Hahn won a place in the city's political annals for getting call boxes on the county's freeways, helping to build a county hospital in Willowbrook after the 1965 Watts riots and bringing the Dodgers west from Brooklyn, N.Y.
In a gesture that still resonates deeply with older African Americans, Kenneth Hahn was the only elected politician to meet the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the airport when he came to Los Angeles in 1961.
In 1980, he also ushered his only son into the family business.
But the younger Hahn — who readily acknowledged that his election as controller the next year was "because my middle name was Kenneth and my last name was Hahn" — never mastered the political artistry of his father.
Hahn once noted that his sister Janice, now a city councilwoman, was more like their late father. "She got all his charm and personality, and I got his height," he said.
In four years as controller and 16 as city attorney, Hahn would become a very different kind of politician.