Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn said Wednesday that he will retire next year from the seat he has held since the dawn of the Eisenhower Administration, paving the way for the likely election of a black supervisor.
“There is a season to be happy and a season to be sad, the Bible says,” the 71-year-old supervisor said in an interview. “There is a season to run for office and a season not to run. The season for me is not to run again.”
Hahn, who suffered a stroke in 1987 that confined him to a wheelchair and forced him to drastically cut back his work schedule, said he came to his decision after consulting his physician. “My doctor said, ‘Kenny, don’t push your luck,’ ” Hahn said.
“All good things must come to an end,” Hahn said. “I’ve served 10 terms,” longer than any other supervisor in California history.
Hahn said he will serve the remainder of his term, which expires in December, 1992.
Hahn--first elected when Red Cars plied Los Angeles, when only one freeway existed and when the tallest building was City Hall--has been a political anomaly during his four decades on the board. He is a white politician who for years has been overwhelmingly reelected in heavily black South-Central Los Angeles.
The liberal Democrat has helped preside over a county that has doubled in population, from 4.2 million in 1952 to nearly 9 million today, and changed from being heavily white to a melting pot of ethnic cultures. During his tenure, the number of incorporated cities in the county also has doubled to 88.
Hahn has played a role bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles, establishing the paramedic system, placing call boxes on freeways and building dozens of public facilities, from the Music Center to the Sports Arena. On a smaller scale, he designed the county flag and seal.
Always skilled at grabbing headlines, Hahn recently proposed statehood for Los Angeles County on a lark but quietly dropped the proposal.
Hahn also has been pushing for construction of a pipeline to bring water from Alaska to drought-stricken California and for expansion of the Board of Supervisors from five to seven members.
Hahn’s long-rumored retirement will further shake up the county 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 in this century, Gloria Molina.
State Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) has already announced her intention to run for Hahn’s 2nd Supervisorial District seat in the June election. Other prominent blacks who have been mentioned as possible candidates are former County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden. Hahn’s chief deputy, Mas Fukai, said he is considering running.
Burke, the only black to ever serve on the board, was appointed in 1979 but lost when she ran for election in 1980.
Hahn’s successor is expected to assume a top leadership role in black politics--one that will be crucially important when Mayor Tom Bradley retires.
The 2nd Supervisorial District, encompassing South-Central Los Angeles, is 40% Latino, 35% black and 8% Asian, but Latinos account for only 17% of the district’s eligible voters because many are not citizens or are not old enough to vote.
Hahn said his decision, which he described as the most difficult of his career, was not influenced by a possible challenge from Watson or anyone else.
Nor, he said, was he swayed by criticism he has received from black leaders for supporting Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and Sheriff Sherman Block, whose departments have been accused of using excessive force against minorities.
By retiring, Hahn also largely avoided the situation he faced three years ago when some black leaders publicly urged him not to seek reelection.
“I feel confident that I could be reelected hands-down,” Hahn said. He also said that growing demands for black representation on the board were not a consideration. “No black officeholder can deliver what I have been able to deliver to my district--good streets, paved alleys, wonderful parks, 18 swimming pools, a new hospital, five health centers, new libraries. . . .”
Hahn said he informed his family, including his son, City Atty. James K. Hahn, of his decision Wednesday morning. Later in the day, he notified his staff during an emotional meeting that left some in tears.
“It was a very tough decision for him,” said City Atty. Hahn. “He recognizes that although he proved he could do the job the last four years (since the stroke), he wanted to be fair to my mom and the family and to start recognizing that his health is a concern. The stress of doing this job five more years is certainly something he had to consider.”
City Atty. Hahn said he has no interest in the supervisor’s job. “My dad is too tough an act to follow,” he said.
The supervisor said he has no plans to endorse any candidate seeking to succeed him. Filing for the office does not officially begin until February and it closes in March.
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 person ever elected to the Board of Supervisors.
Hahn has been known for building parks, keeping streets clean and filling street potholes in his district. He once offered a $1 reward for every pothole sighting in his district, but said there were none. Such attention to detail often has been cited as a reason for his consistent success on election day.
Of course, Hahn made sure that a sign bearing his name was posted at every such public project.
Hahn is so well known in Los Angeles that another Kenneth Hahn--no relation to the supervisor--was elected county assessor last year largely on the strength of the name.
After nearly 44 years in public office, Hahn said, “I’m entitled to go fishing at Kenny Hahn Park,” one of the many parks and public works projects that the veteran supervisor brought to his inner-city district.