Supervisor Hahn May Retire at End of ’92
Kenneth Hahn, a Los Angeles County supervisor for nearly four decades, said he is considering retiring next year--a decision that would likely pave the way for the election of an African-American to the county board.
The 70-year-old liberal suffered a stroke in 1987 that left him partially paralyzed, put him in a wheelchair and forced him to drastically cut back his work schedule.
Hahn said in an interview last week that he will announce in October whether he will seek reelection. When asked why he was delaying the announcement, he said, “If you do it now, you become a lame duck. . . . I’m undecided.”
Hahn, who was elected to the board in 1952, said his wife, Ramona, wants him to retire when his 10th term expires in December, 1992, and that he is seriously considering leaving office to teach government at the college level and write his memoirs. Hahn said his wife told him, “You’ve served 40 years. Nobody has served longer than you. Why don’t you just take it easy for awhile.”
Some of those close to Hahn say they believe the veteran supervisor already has decided not to seek reelection but is delaying an announcement for fear that lame-duck status will hinder his ability to advance pet projects. Among other things, Hahn has pushed for expansion of the Board of Supervisors and construction of a 1,700-mile pipeline to bring water from Alaska to California.
Unlike Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Deane Dana, Hahn is not raising funds for a reelection bid in June, 1992, which has contributed to speculation that Hahn will retire.
Said City Councilman Robert Farrell, who represents many of the same South-Central neighborhoods as Hahn, “I would doubt that Kenny Hahn is going to run.”
Hahn’s retirement would likely open the door for the election of the first black supervisor in Los Angeles County. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who is black, was appointed to the board in 1979 but lost when she ran for election in 1980.
As a member of the governing board of the nation’s most populous county, a black supervisor would become one of the top black elected officials in the nation. Hahn’s retirement also would further shake up the county board, a previously all-white, all-male enclave that recently gained its first Latino this century, Gloria Molina.
Rep. Julian Dixon said he is interested in running for supervisor if Hahn retires. Hahn said Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, a former aide, may be a candidate to succeed him. State Sen. Diane Watson and Rep. Maxine Waters also are said to be interested. Holden and Watson declined to discuss the matter. Waters could not be reached.
Hahn’s son, Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn, does not live in the 2nd Supervisorial District and said he is not interested in running for supervisor. The younger Hahn, who is considered a potential candidate for mayor of Los Angeles in 1993, said his father “has never indicated to me that he has any intention of leaving yet.”
The 2nd District is 42% Latino, 37% black and 8% Asian, according to the 1990 Census. But Latinos account for only 17% of the district’s eligible voters, according to figures provided during last year’s county redistricting trial, because many Latinos are not citizens or old enough to vote. Blacks form a majority of the eligible voters.
Kenneth Hahn recently came in for criticism from black leaders for his support of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates in the wake of the police beating of Rodney G. King. But he said the criticism is not a factor in whether he will seek reelection.
Even some of those who have criticized his position on Gates say that if Hahn runs again, he should have no problem winning in a district that has consistently reelected him by large margins. He won reelection over eight challengers in 1988, a year after suffering the stroke, with 84% of the vote.
“It’s clear that a large segment of his district disagrees with him” on Gates, said Rep. Dixon. “However, Kenny has built up a lot of goodwill” over the years by scrupulously tending to such bread-and-butter matters as maintaining the streets and providing parks and health service funding.
Frances James, acting co-chair of the Southern California Organizing Committee (formerly South-Central Organizing Committee), which has called on Gates to resign, said: “There is a true loyalty to Kenneth Hahn, and sometimes loyalty overrides issues as important” as whether Gates should resign.
Today, the once-garrulous supervisor restricts his public appearances. Since suffering the stroke in 1987, Hahn has been hospitalized three times for a variety of ailments.
“Before, I would shake the hands of 2,000 people” at community functions, he said. “Now, I just wave to them.”
Hahn is almost always in a wheelchair, with one lifeless wrist strapped to an armrest. His words can be difficult to understand. He is always accompanied in public by an attendant.
The stroke, he said, “affected my speech, my leg and my arm, but not my heart or my mind.”
Hahn’s longtime liberal ally, Supervisor Ed Edelman said: “When he is in the board room, he may not give as many speeches, but he’s generally voting the right way.”
Conservative Supervisor Deane Dana, an ideological opponent of Hahn, added: “He’s made a great comeback.”
William Robertson, executive secretary-treasurer of the County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said, “Even a 75% Kenneth Hahn is a distinct improvement over a lot of other politicians.”
But Robin Cannon, president of Concerned Citizens for South-Central Los Angeles, said, “We don’t see much of Kenny Hahn anymore.”
“It’s time that we had a black supervisor,” Cannon said, noting that she was offering her personal opinion, not speaking for her group.
Hahn said he believes a black will be elected to the board if he retires. He said an additional opportunity for election of a black would be provided if voters in June, 1992, approve his proposal to expand the board from five to seven members.
After the election of Molina this year, Hahn reintroduced his longtime proposal for board expansion, believing that the board’s new liberal majority would assure its passage.
Ironically, Hahn succeeded with the help of conservative Supervisors Antonovich and Dana. Molina abstained from voting, saying she first wanted to hold public hearings on the expansion proposal and wanted to include campaign contribution limits and ethics reform for supervisors.
Hahn’s proposal drew criticism from civil rights attorneys who said that expansion to less than nine members could dilute the voting rights of blacks and Latinos.
“I’m willing to change it to nine,” Hahn said. “But seven has been the crusade I’ve had for 18 years. I never thought I could get nine” approved by the board and voters.
Hahn’s political career began in 1947, when at the age of 26 he became the youngest person elected to the Los Angeles City Council. In 1952, at the age of 32, he became the youngest elected to the Board of Supervisors.
During his career, Hahn championed the county’s paramedic program, freeway emergency call boxes and a 1980 ballot measure that provides sales tax dollars for transit. His biography says Hahn led the effort to build Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center and helped bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles.
Despite his health problems, Hahn has maintained his knack for attracting publicity. Last week, he drew a packed news conference as he discussed his Alaska-to-California pipeline proposal with Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel.
At the conclusion, Hahn presented Hickel with a county flag. “I designed the county flag,” the supervisor said. “So I always give it to our distinguished guests.”