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Sen. Watson Will Run for Supervisor Hahn’s Post : Politics: Even if the incumbent stands for reelection, she will seek the seat because the time has come for a black to hold the job, she says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State Sen. Diane Watson said Thursday that she will run for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn’s seat--whether or not Hahn seeks reelection--because she believes the time has come for a black supervisor.

“It is time that we start looking at the underrepresented having their own representative on government bodies,” said Watson, who was 19 when Hahn was first elected supervisor in 1952. “That takes nothing away from Hahn, who has served well and whose only problem is his health.”

Citing a 1987 stroke that put Hahn in a wheelchair and forced him to cut back his work schedule, Watson added, “He can’t get out and do the things he did before.”

Watson (D-Los Angeles) told The Times that she has it on good authority that Hahn will retire but declined to identify her source.

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Hahn, 71, said Thursday that he will not announce his plans until early next month. But he confirmed that his family wants him to retire when his record 10th term ends in December, 1992.

“I haven’t decided,” the supervisor said. But he said that he already is thinking about what he would do if he retires. “When the time comes, I just want to go fishing in my new lake in Kenny Hahn Park.”

Even if Hahn runs, Watson said, she will be a candidate in the June election in the 2nd Supervisorial District, which encompasses heavily black and Latino South-Central Los Angeles. “We think we’ve grown up enough now to start representing ourselves,” Watson said. “I’m going to run.”

A number of prominent blacks have been mentioned as possible candidates if Hahn retires, including U.S. Reps. Julian Dixon and Maxine Waters, former County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden. None, however, have said they would challenge Hahn.

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Waters declined to comment on Watson’s possible candidacy. Official filing for the office does not begin until February. Waters, however, said that if Hahn runs, “I’ll support him. If he does not run, I’m interested.”

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. The election of a black also would further shake up the board, a previously all-white, all-male enclave that was joined earlier this year--and only after a voting rights lawsuit--by its first Latino this century, Gloria Molina.

The 57-year-old Watson, a former Los Angeles school board member, is the most prominent African-American in two decades to threaten a challenge to Hahn, who has served longer than any county supervisor in California history.

In 1968, then-Los Angeles City Councilman Billy Mills ran for the seat, but lost to a healthy Hahn, 68% to 31%. In 1988, a year after his stroke, Hahn won reelection with 84% of the vote.

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Since then, however, Hahn has come in for criticism from black leaders for his support of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and Sheriff Sherman Block, whose agencies have been accused of using excessive force against minorities.

Kenneth Thomas, publisher of the black community newspaper, the Los Angeles Sentinel, said he believes Hahn could win reelection on the strength of the good will he has built up during four decades as a supervisor.

“He’s been an effective representative of the district, but like all good things, sometimes they must come to an end,” said Thomas.

Watson, whose Senate district in Southwest Los Angeles takes in a big chunk of the supervisorial district, said she believes that Hahn has served the district well and will be seeking his endorsement.

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“The supervisor has been there (almost) 40 years,” Watson said in a telephone interview from Sacramento. “His health is questionable. My concern is that God forbid anything happen to him, there would be an appointment to that seat.”

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson has the power to fill a vacancy on the Board of Supervisors. In fact, the only black to ever serve on the board, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, was appointed by then-Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. in 1979. She was defeated for election a year later by Supervisor Deane Dana.

Watson has already begun campaigning for the job. She recently showed up at a board meeting to seek increased funding for treatment of the mentally ill. She said that she plans to speak Tuesday at a special board hearing on the operations of the Sheriff’s Department.

Watson said her decision to run for the board also was spurred in part by voter approval last year of term limits on state legislators.

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In an interview in his Hall of Administration office, Hahn said that if he decides to seek reelection, “I can win.” He disputed any contention that he does not effectively represent his minority district.

Hahn said he had not talked to Watson. He offered no criticism of her, saying simply, “She would be an excellent candidate.”


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