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Parks to File for Mayoral Race

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks said he would file papers today and begin fundraising for an “exploratory” bid to unseat Mayor James K. Hahn, the man who denied him a second term as police chief two years ago.

“There is a vacuum in leadership,” said the councilman, one of several Los Angeles politicians mulling a run against a mayor who many say has been weakened by federal and county probes into his administration’s contracting practices.

Parks, who won a City Council seat a year ago after losing a bitter public battle to keep his job as police chief, expressed concern about allegations that some members of Hahn’s administration might have shaken down city contractors for campaign contributions.

Saying the mayor has seemed slow to respond to that issue and others, Parks said: “It’s almost like nothing happens unless the administration is forced into a corner.”

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Parks also said Hahn had failed to fulfill his campaign promises or develop coherent policies on major issues such as housing and transportation.

Some of those criticisms have been echoed by other would-be challengers in recent weeks. But political pundits say that Parks’ high name recognition, coupled with strong support in the African American community, which Hahn handily carried three years ago, makes him a formidable opponent.

“Parks cuts Hahn off from getting some of his black base,” said Larry Levine, a political consultant with no ties to any of the candidates or potential candidates.

Still, several consultants cautioned that any challenger, including Parks, faced a daunting fundraising challenge. Three years ago, Hahn and his rival, Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, spent $13 million combined, and the mayor has already amassed a war chest of more than $1.3 million. What’s more, no incumbent mayor has lost in more than three decades.

But the more candidates who join the contest, the greater the chance the mayor’s race will end in a runoff election. Possibly with that in mind, several candidates and potential candidates greeted Parks’ news with delight.

“We absolutely agree on a lot of issues,” said state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar), the only big-name candidate officially in the race. “I think he can raise the level of debate.”

Two other potential challengers -- City Controller Laura Chick and Villaraigosa -- also welcomed Parks into the race.

Another potential challenger, former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, said he was still seriously considering a campaign and planned to make a decision soon. “People are yearning for an energetic alternative for the future of Los Angeles,” he said.

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The mayor himself offered no comment on any of his challengers, and said he planned to continue working on his agenda.

“We’re going to work as hard as we can to make our communities safer,” he said. “I can’t worry about who is going to run and who is not going to run.”

Hahn political advisor Bill Carrick downplayed the potential threat posed by the former police chief.

“He’s a flawed candidate,” Carrick said, adding that Parks’ stewardship of the LAPD during the Rampart scandal had opened him to criticism, particularly when compared with the reign of the chief Hahn picked to replacement him, William J. Bratton.

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Carrick added that many voters would view Parks’ candidacy as “sour grapes” over Hahn’s refusal to support the chief for a second term.

Parks denied that suggestion, and offered a vigorous defense of his tenure at the LAPD, during which he said he presided over one of the sharpest drops in crime in 30 years.

“I don’t think you can ever move forward by getting back,” he said. “I want to be mayor because ... I think I can make a change, and I think a change needs to be made.”

Parks was particularly critical of Hahn’s $9-billion proposed modernization of Los Angeles International Airport, which he said had been poorly planned.

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The councilman announced his intention in an interview at his City Hall office. This is a departure of sorts, because officials usually try to make political announcements outside City Hall to avoid using city resources for political purposes.

The 37-year LAPD veteran, who grew up in Los Angeles, joined the force at age 21 and worked his way up the ranks to become the city’s second black police chief. Former Mayor Tom Bradley, the only African American ever elected to the city’s top post, also rose from the ranks of the LAPD to a career in politics.

Parks turned to politics two years ago after Hahn announced that he would not support his attempt for a second five-year term. Hahn said he thought the chief had not done enough to reform the LAPD.

After a contentious fight, Parks hung up his badge and ran for a seat on the City Council representing a South Los Angeles district. He won in a landslide, then quickly earned the respect of many of the council members who had voted just months before not to give him a second term.

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“He has impressed me a great deal,” said Councilman Jack Weiss, who has also been critical of the mayor in recent weeks. “He has an exacting level of attention to detail on district and citywide issues.”

While on the council, Parks has lobbied -- so far unsuccessfully -- to persuade the National Football League to bring a franchise back to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He also has pushed for stronger ethics rules and kept an eye on expenditures as chairman of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee.

As Hahn prepares to unveil a proposed budget for next year, some council members worry that the rivalry between the mayor and the councilman will derail the budget process when the city is facing a projected deficit of more than $250 million. But Parks said he did not think that would be an issue.

After filing papers today, Parks said, he intends to begin raising money -- a crucial task given that Hahn has a huge head start for next March’s election.

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To guide the campaign, Parks has hired Chris Lehane, a leading national Democratic strategist who worked on Al Gore’s unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign. But Parks stressed that if he thought voters around the city were not excited about his campaign, he would end it.

“This is a big city, a thriving city,” he said. “The mayor’s office doesn’t make you a leader. You have to have a leader in the mayor’s office.”

Times staff writer Noam N. Levey contributed to this report


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