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Excerpts From the Debate Between Mayoral Hopefuls

Excerpts from Wednesday’s debate between mayoral candidates Antonio Villaraigosa and James K. Hahn. The panel for the debate was made up of Bill Boyarsky, author and former city editor of The Times; Patt Morrison, columnist for The Times; and Larry Mantle of KPCC Radio, who also served as moderator.

MORRISON: Mr. Villaraigosa, although the mayor has no direct control over public education, much of the last few years have been spent by the mayor and others talking about saving the public education in Los Angeles. Your wife is a public school teacher in Montebello, and your children are in private school. If you were elected, would you put your children into the Los Angeles public schools?

VILLARAIGOSA: My wife is a teacher. She’s been a teacher for 18 years. I’ve said to her that I promised that I’m going to make fixing up our schools my No. 1 priority; that I’m going to audit this school district; that I’m going to spearhead an effort to work with the school district to build the 100 new schools we need.

In answer to your question, I’m doing like every parent does. I’m going to put my kids in the best school I can. My kids were in a neighborhood public school until just this year. We’ve decided to put them in a Catholic school. We’ve done that because we want our kids to have the best education they can. If I can get that education in a public school, I’ll do it, but I won’t sacrifice my children any more than I could ask you to do the same.

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HAHN: We need to build those schools because if the present trend continues, every single high school is going to be on a year-round schedule; 80,000 students will have to be bused if we don’t do something to build these schools right away. This is not a situation that you can sit back in.

I’m committed because both my children began and are still in L.A. public schools, schools right in our neighborhood. I believe public education is the best way not only to learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but also to learn how to get along with people who are different than you, and I think that’s a big part of learning how to live life.

BOYARSKY: Mr. Villaraigosa, what is the relationship between race, racism and poverty in Los Angeles?

VILLARAIGOSA: Anybody who lives in this city who has grown and was born and raised in this city like me obviously can see that there’s been a very direct relationship, and yet much has changed from the days when my mother couldn’t go to the city pool because you could only go once a week. I think the next mayor of this city has got to focus on the need to address some of those poverty issues. We have to be a city that’s growing together and not growing apart.

HAHN: You know, I grew up in South-Central Los Angeles. I lived in integrated communities all my life, but there’s a lot of communities of Los Angeles that have been very segregated over those years. Race became a divider and not uniter in this city. Many people have taken to teaching their children hate. That’s why I was a strong prosecutor of hate crimes, formed a hate crimes unit in my office.

MORRISON: Hollywood is in danger of becoming a concept rather than a place. How do you keep production from leaving the town with whose name it is synonymous?

VILLARAIGOSA: I represented Hollywood for six years. I led the effort to have a state partnership in the fight against runaway production by sponsoring a tax credit for about $650 million. Ultimately, that tax credit didn’t get through the Senate. We put together a very modest package of $45 million. We’ve got to do a lot more.

As mayor I’m going to be very aggressive at going to Sacramento and Washington and saying we’ve got to do the same things that Ontario and Canada, British Columbia do. We’ve got to provide the kind of incentives to keep that production here.

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HAHN: We’ve done a lot in Los Angeles. We’ve coordinated our film permit office with the city and county to try to expedite location filming and other things. It’s still not working. We’re still seeing people leave Los Angeles and Southern California to make films in Canada and other places that give them a real tax break.

Mr. Villaraigosa, you were the speaker, and you said you tried, and you did represent Hollywood, but you didn’t succeed. Your modest proposal here hasn’t stopped the flood. What we need, I think, is some leadership that’s going to get this done in Sacramento and Washington and not make excuses.

MANTLE: Mayor Riordan recently was very critical of how poor communities are being served in the city, and he used the term “poverty pimps,” those who make their living essentially off the backs of the poor. What about poverty pimps? Is this a significant problem in the city of Los Angeles? Would you concur with the mayor’s assessment?

VILLARAIGOSA: The mayor and I agree on some things; we disagree on others. We disagreed and agreed before I got his endorsement and will continue to do that. I don’t agree with that assessment. I do believe, though, he was trying to make a point, and the point that he was trying to make is that this city has got to do more for people who have been left behind.

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I accepted his challenge at the State of the City (Riordan’s annual assessment of Los Angeles, delivered earlier this month) to repair a new park every two weeks. I did that not only because he asked me to do it, I did it because I authored Proposition 12 that focused on urban parks in providing some of our neighborhoods with the kind of parks they need.

I come from a neighborhood that was left behind, that didn’t have the infrastructure support that we need to make people successful, and as mayor I’m going to lift up those communities and make them my absolute priority.

HAHN: Well, I grew up in the same kind of community you did, Antonio, in South-Central Los Angeles at 89th and Figueroa Street. I do think more needs to be done for those areas. That’s why I’m committed to doing that. I’m not going to forget my roots growing up in South-Central Los Angeles. And there’s a lot of fine people who were involved in community-based organizations, nonprofits, who are working to make life better, you know. And when we say--try to label everybody--I think it does a disservice to people who are doing great things in their community.

I think we need more support for the nonprofits and less criticism.

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MANTLE: Mr. Hahn, you’ve been criticized for your tenure as city attorney for some of the proposed settlements that were then ratified by the City Council in cases involving allegations of police misconduct, cases that have cost the city a tremendous amount of money. Share with us, if you will, why you think these large settlements are justified, particularly when they put a tremendous financial burden on the city.

HAHN: Our office litigates and tries more cases than any other public law offices in California. We win 80% of the cases we go to trial, but if the liability is clear, and the damages could be very large awarded by a jury, I think the prudent thing to do is settle that case.

Nobody likes to pay out those dollars. But I think my job is to make sure that overall we keep the tax dollars paid out by taxpayers as low as possible. Just by perspective we paid out $82 million last year. That sounds like a lot of money. That included landslide cases, that included a $16-million tax refund case, it included all the police cases, all the traffic accident cases where somebody said there was something wrong with the road or city vehicles were involved. By comparison, New York City spent $58 million last year on slip-and-fall cases alone and over $250 million. I think looking at it in relationship to the rest of the country, we’ve been doing an excellent job.

VILLARAIGOSA: I think you just have to look to the study by the controller to know that, in fact, we’re approaching liability somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 [million] to [$1 billion] liability for workers’ comp cases that are out of control, liability for Rampart. There’s been no successful risk management program in this city to address those liability issues.

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