Victory Marked by Cautious Confidence


Another candidate would have simply declared victory. True to his nature, James K. Hahn stopped short.

He thanked all his supporters. He praised his much-loved father, the late Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who had set him on the path toward a life of politics.

And he pumped his arms--"raise-the-roof" style--and slid around the floor to the Pointer Sisters' "We Are Family."

"Go Hahn! Go Hahn!" the crowd chanted, as two of his most prominent supporters, basketball great Magic Johnson and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) laughed and clapped to the beat.

But even as his supporters crowned him mayor, Hahn displayed his legendary caution. "I know it's going to be a long night of partying," he said, "but I want to remind you: I'm still the city attorney."

Flanked by his wife and mother, Hahn praised the memory of his father, and he conceded that his more charismatic opponent, former state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, "may be a better candidate."

But, Hahn said, he had learned from his father's example that "politics and public service are about helping people."

His supporters, who had spent hours watching the slow vote were confident. "There's no doubt in our minds that [Hahn's] going to win," said Velma Rhetta, a retired supervisor from the L.A. County Department of Social Services. "Look how calm we are."

Earlier in the evening, as the first votes trickled in, the candidate's 8-year-old son, Jackson, had warmed the crowd at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles with a song, written by a City Hall painter, called "We're Going to Win With Jim."

The candidate himself, who in his childhood had often attended such rallies with his father, beamed as he watched.

Slowly, over the hours, the energy level in the ballroom began to rise as the votes showed Hahn building a lead. Shortly before midnight, as results were announced showing Hahn still leading with more than half the precincts reporting, the crowd released a great roar and began to chant: "Go, Jim, Go! Go, Jim, Go!"

It had been a long, two-year campaign, and by Tuesday, there was little ground left for Hahn to cover.

In the morning, Hahn walked from his San Pedro home with his family to his son's school, Taper Elementary, to vote. He loped across the street to shake hands with supporters eating doughnuts and talking Little League baseball at a driveway party. He tooled around South-Central and stopped at a few of his campaign offices.

At one San Pedro office, 20 volunteers, mostly high school students taking the day off, worked the phones getting out the vote. Emphasizing the candidate's paternal ties, they could be heard calling on behalf of James Kenneth Hahn.

Showing off his ability to memorize names--and his family's deep roots in the city--Hahn seemed to know everyone he met. At a barbershop, he found Pete Lakos, a 69-year-old Croatian American, getting a haircut. Of course he would vote for Hahn, Lakos said, "I know his mother."

Next was the carpenters union hall, and then it was off to Lucy's El Adobe on Melrose Boulevard, a restaurant so steeped in politics that the chicken and rice is known as the Jerry Brown Special. Once he was done with his chile verde, Hahn headed for the Westin Bonaventure downtown to meet up with his family and wait for the polls to close.

Even on this last day, Hahn could not avoid questions from reporters about the advantage of having a famous father. They asked him about the importance of black voters, who adored his father. They asked him about the attack ads he launched. . They asked him whether he had alienated Latino voters.

The answers were automatic by now: He's his own man. He's grateful to his African American supporters, but he wants to lead the whole city. Villaraigosa started it. And Latinos vote for him too.

But it was all over, anyhow, and as both sides waited , the mild-mannered city attorney was unrepentant about his performance and offered a "pre-postmortem" of the election.

"My experience gave me the edge," Hahn said. "People had been familiar with my record. That helped a lot. And it looks like the voters in the Valley, Republican voters in the city, others who voted for other candidates [in the April 10 first-round election] seem to be shifting more toward me."

" . . . I think we had a very uniting campaign. I certainly want to be a mayor for everybody."

Times staff writer Greg Krikorian contributed to this story.

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