For Blacks, New Clout in City Hall


Casting aside eight years of tense relations with the Riordan administration, African Americans looked forward Wednesday to a sharp rise in influence at Los Angeles City Hall after providing a crucial bloc of votes to Mayor-elect James K. Hahn.

Four out of five black voters chose Hahn over rival Antonio Villaraigosa in the mayoral election on Tuesday, according to a Times poll of voters leaving the polls. They, along with conservative and moderate white voters, particularly from the Valley, formed the twin bulwarks of Hahn's winning coalition.

Hahn's overwhelming support among blacks was a dramatic illustration of the electoral clout that African Americans continue to wield in the city despite the rapid growth of the Latino and Asian populations.

"The mood is--to say the least--very jubilant," said the Rev. Leonard Jackson of First AME Church in the West Adams district.

It was particularly jubilant given the waning power of black elected officials outside of the city. Only six blacks serve in the 120-member state Legislature--not a single one of them elected north of Sunset Boulevard. The numbers of all black elected officials in California have stagnated even as the numbers of Latino and Asian officeholders has skyrocketed.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles City Council continues to include three African American members. But changing demographics in their districts and upcoming reapportionment have left some fearing that one or more of those districts could soon end up losing their traditional black representation.

Next-Best Thing to a Black Mayor

In Hahn, local black leaders perceived that they have the next best thing to one of their own--a white politician in debt to his loyal black supporters. And as Hahn set to the task of forming his administration, black community leaders began laying out their high expectations. Among the priorities they cited were economic development projects to revitalize predominantly black neighborhoods; a crackdown on racial profiling by police officers; and top-level jobs at City Hall to give blacks a greater voice in shaping city policy.

But perhaps most important, said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), one of Hahn's most prominent black supporters, is access to decision-makers at City Hall.

"It's just important to be in the loop," she said. "The African American community feels very comfortable with Jim Hahn."

Further buoying their sentiments Wednesday was the sharp contrast between the incoming and outgoing administrations. Many African Americans felt decidedly out of the loop with outgoing Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican who had scant support among black voters.

"The whole time [Riordan] was in office he didn't do much for the African American community. . . ," said Dr. Frederick O. Murph, pastor of Brookings Community AME Church. "He did a great deal for those who had money, but didn't reach out to minority groups. Jim will reach out to all people."

Hahn will also "provide opportunities in terms of contracting" for minority vendors, Murph said. "It's not that we're talking about quotas, but we're talking about equal opportunity and equal access to city contracts."

(Defending the outgoing administration, Riordan spokesman Peter Hidalgo denied that the mayor had been inattentive to minority groups, saying his administration was diverse and that the mayor had won awards for helping minority-owned businesses to prosper.)

William R. Jones, a letter carrier who backed Hahn, said he expects the new mayor to do something about the lack of jobs and after-school programs for young people who turn to crime for diversion and cash.

Indeed, Hahn in his first post-election press conference on Wednesday emphasized his desire to boost after-school programs.

"When you see black kids growing up, they see the dream, but the dream isn't around the corner," Jones said. "It's in somebody else's area." Hahn, he said, should "bring the dream to our neighborhoods."

"He's a person that we all hold responsible. . . . But this is the key: You got in there. We gave you control. What are you going to do for us now? The jury is still out."

Fueling the high expectations are the fond memories in the black community of the mayor-elect's father, the late county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, which paved the way for the younger Hahn's success.

"I appreciated what his father did for the city of L.A.," said Hahn campaign volunteer William "Bobby" Thompson. "He has to follow that lead."

Hahn campaign consultant Kam Kuwata said the expectations of African Americans were echoed throughout the city.

"Jim grew up in South Los Angeles, and he's had a relationship with that part of the city probably for a longer time only because it was his home turf," Kuwata said. "But one of the things you find out about Los Angeles [while] campaigning is that people's hopes and dreams throughout the city are pretty much the same."

But Hahn faces a tough balancing act between African Americans and his other key constituency in the election: conservative and moderate whites.

"It is an unusual coalition, to say the least," said City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, an African American who backed Villaraigosa. "How you govern with that level of polarity has to be figured out."

Conflict is sure to arise when Hahn decides on whether to spend public money on programs like low-income housing that could benefit many African Americans, but run afoul of the anti-tax-and-spend sentiments of conservative voters, said Steven P. Erie, a UC San Diego political scientist who studies Los Angeles politics.

"Anything that's going to cost money is going to put those two constituencies at odds," he said. "He's really mounting two very different horses."

Another potential problem for Hahn is the decision on whether to renew the contract of Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, an African American with strong support among black political leaders.

At the behest of the police officers union, Hahn has supported allowing officers to work three days a week for 12 hours a day, a policy adamantly opposed by Parks. In disputes like that one, Hahn will face pressure from black leaders to side with Parks over the police union.

"It would not be a real smart idea to alienate him [Parks]," said Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, another black supporter of Hahn.

Overall, while black leaders welcomed their demonstration of influence Tuesday, it came with a sobering reality that it may be one of the last elections in which African Americans play such a powerful role.

"The tide is running out on the African American community in Los Angeles," Erie said. "Their share of the votes [is] only going to go down, not up."

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