The chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Monday said that Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, hospitalized by a stroke since Jan. 11, "may not return" to his job.
Chairman Mike Antonovich gave the assessment of the veteran supervisor's future when questioned at a Hall of Administration press conference.
It was one of the most pessimistic appraisals of Hahn's condition heard yet and Antonovich was asked if he had any specific information to substantiate his comment.
He said that he had not because Hahn's office had declined to allow any county officials to see him, even turning away County Administrative Officer James Hankla, who had been asked by the other supervisors to find out when Hahn would be back.
Hahn's future is of major interest among politicians throughout the county and community leaders in his 4th Supervisorial District, a heavily black and Latino political domain reaching from Watts to Inglewood, where he has reigned since 1952.
Antonovich expanded on his remarks in an interview, saying, "There has been a total news blackout on his condition. It is my hope and prayer that he returns quickly because we miss him at our board meetings and value his counsel. However, we do not know when or if he will return. I hope he returns, but just looking at the circumstances, when he took ill it was (said he would return) in a few weeks, but now it is in the months."
Mas Fukai, Hahn's chief deputy, brushed off the statement from Antonovich, a political foe of Hahn, as "wishful thinking on his part" and predicted that his boss will be back at work. "As an educated guess, I'd say in a couple of months," Fukai said. Press aide Dan Wolf denied Antonovich's charge of a news blackout, saying that aides had provided details of Hahn's condition to the press.
Fukai also gave a more detailed description than previously available of the 66-year-old supervisor's physical condition. He said Hahn, whose left arm and leg were afflicted by the stroke, has not walked since he was admitted to Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood and uses a wheelchair. Hahn's ability to form words clearly remains unimpaired, Fukai said, although he speaks in softer tones than usual and has been under the care of a speech therapist.
Hahn is now undergoing both physical and occupational therapy. The latter therapy, Fukai said, involves pointing out things and deals with memory although, he added, "I'm speculating" on that point.
Antonovich commented on Hahn's condition during a news conference in his office with the new county administrative officer, Richard Dixon, who takes over from Hankla on Monday.
Hahn's name came up during questions about pending legislation to eliminate the Thursday meeting of the supervisors and consolidate all business in the Tuesday sessions. Hahn opposes the proposal.
In the course of the discussion, Antonovich said Hahn "may not return." Antonovich disclosed that the supervisors met in executive session three weeks ago to try to get more information about Hahn.
Hankla was assigned the job. Hankla recalled that "there were a lot of rumors" about Hahn at the time and "I was asked to make contact." Hankla said he talked to Fukai. But Fukai told him to "work through him on any issue relative to county government," Hankla said.
Fukai told a reporter that he is the only county employee allowed to see Hahn. Other visits, he said, are limited to the supervisor's family.
He said he confers with Hahn for 30 to 45 minutes each weekday. Hahn, he said, inquires about projects in his district and on county affairs in general.
But he said the supervisor took note of the fact that he and another liberal, Ed Edelman, are regularly outvoted by the conservatives, Antonovich, Deane Dana and Pete Schabarum, on major fiscal and welfare issues. "He told me, 'Don't hold things up; they're going to have three votes; they're going to vote on it anyway,' "Fukai said.
Larry J. Monteilh, executive officer of the Board of Supervisors, said that most matters, including important ones, require only three votes. Five votes are needed for disposing of public park land and four votes for withdrawing money from the county reserve fund. But the budget needs only three for approval.
Fukai said Hahn is able to shave and brush his teeth, and to shower with assistance. The supervisor, he said, is wheeled to a hospital patio sometimes during the day, where he chats with other patients, and is taken in the wheelchair to physical therapy sessions.
Fukai said that "the doctor told Ramona (Hahn's wife) that he will walk."
Hahn also watches television and reads newspapers and magazines and letters he has received from well-wishers, Fukai said.
A neurologist not involved in the case, Dr. Mark Fisher of the USC Medical School, told of Hahn's condition, said, "There is a wide spectrum" in stroke recovery and "my guess is that he probably is not so much in the middle but toward the favorable side," although the supervisor seems to have suffered "significant neurological impairment."
Impairment of the left side means the stroke occurred in the right side of the brain, Fisher said, which is probably good news for Hahn. That is because in the overwhelming number of people, such as Hahn, who are right-handed, the left side of the brain is the dominant one, controlling the ability to conceptualize and to speak.
Fisher said that if Hahn's recovery progresses, he would move from the wheelchair to a walker and then perhaps get around without assistance.