Labor Group Backs Hahn
Mayor James K. Hahn scored a major victory Thursday when the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor endorsed him for a second term, a decision that will bring considerable money and muscle to his campaign.
Hahn won the coveted endorsement of the political arm of the county AFL-CIO despite the enthusiasm of several unions for mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.
The Eastside councilman and former union organizer won the federation’s endorsement in 2001 only to lose a bitter race to Hahn.
At a late afternoon news conference at the federation’s headquarters near MacArthur Park, Hahn could hardly contain his delight about labor’s backing.
“This is huge,” said the mayor, who beamed as he stood beside Miguel Contreras, the executive secretary-treasurer of the county AFL-CIO and the top union leader in Los Angeles. “Time and time again, I think, organized labor has proven how formidable they are.”
Hahn said he won the endorsement because of his work on issues that matter to labor, such as his efforts to modernize Los Angeles International Airport, build more housing and expand after-school programs. “I think that at the end of the day, that kind of effectiveness -- getting results -- is what got me this endorsement.”
The endorsement was particularly sweet for Hahn because it deprives Villaraigosa of the financial clout and volunteer support of the labor federation, which has 400,000 members in the city, although only about 60% of them are registered to vote.
Contreras said union leaders would meet in January to decide how much money to commit to Hahn, who faces 11 opponents -- four of them veteran local politicians -- in the March 8 election. He speculated that the federation would spend more than $1 million on mailers, phone calls and precinct workers to reach union households in the nation’s second-largest city.
Touring a room in the federation headquarters that was newly adorned with Hahn signs, the mayor was buoyant as Contreras showed off phone banks and automated dialing equipment capable of reaching 35,000 homes a night. The labor leader said the room would be “humming with the word Hahn” as the election approaches.
Contreras told reporters that the endorsement of Hahn reflected a long tradition of rewarding officeholders who stick by union workers. “Today, we fulfill that tradition by endorsing for reelection an incumbent mayor who has consistently supported labor’s agenda and issues at City Hall,” he said.
Contreras cited Hahn’s support in labor disputes involving longshore workers at the Port of Los Angeles, drivers and mechanics at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and grocery workers during their bitter 4 1/2-month strike against major supermarket chains.
And he said that Hahn remains a key ally who supports hotel workers in their campaign for a new contract with some of the city’s ritziest hotels.
But Contreras made clear that it could be difficult to persuade rank-and-file union members to stick with the endorsement. Although Hahn won a voice vote of the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education, Villaraigosa remains the favorite of many union workers.
A Los Angeles Times exit poll of voters who cast ballots in the June 2001 mayoral runoff election found that Hahn captured 52% of union households and Villaraigosa drew 48%.
Hahn’s win reflected his support from the city’s largest labor organizations, including the Service Employees International Union; the firefighters union; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the building trade unions.
Contreras also announced Thursday that Villaraigosa had won the endorsement of the politically potent United Teachers Los Angeles and the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents MTA mechanics. Both unions belong to the Federation of Labor.
Villaraigosa, a former California Assembly speaker, received the backing of the Engineers and Architects Union on Wednesday.
The Hahn endorsement was an awkward political moment for Contreras, who considers Villaraigosa “a close personal friend” and was a stalwart Villaraigosa supporter in the 2001 mayoral race.
“At this point, I have to separate my personal hat from my federation hat,” said Contreras, discussing his friendship with Villaraigosa after the news conference. “I think he would be a great mayor, there’s no question he would be a great mayor, but in this case labor wanted to reward its incumbent friend.”
Villaraigosa was clearly disappointed by his failure to deny Hahn the city’s biggest and most important labor endorsement.
“I’m running against an incumbent,” he said. “There is no question that I have a tough fight. But I believe strongly that the city is ready for this candidacy and that I will prevail.”
The 91-member political committee interviewed Hahn, Villaraigosa, state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar) and Councilman Bernard C. Parks before voting to back Hahn. Contreras said Hahn, Villaraigosa and Alarcon received standing ovations.
Contreras said he was greatly disappointed that former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg declined to be interviewed by union officials. “For some reason he has chosen to turn his back on organized labor,” Contreras said. “Up until today, we considered him a friend.”
In a statement, Hertzberg said: “These guys just don’t get what my campaign is about. I’m running for mayor to change L.A., and I refuse to cut deals or participate in any process that pretends to be open and fair when it’s not.”
Hertzberg, a lawyer from Sherman Oaks, took issue with the charge that he has turned his back on working families. “I am going to work my tail off for working families as I always have,” he said.
Contreras also said the political committee’s interview with Parks was “difficult” because the former LAPD chief had voted against a city ordinance to block construction of big-box stores, such as nonunion Wal-Mart. Union leaders also were troubled that Parks distributed Thanksgiving gift certificates for Vons last year during the strike against the supermarket chain. And they objected to the 8th District councilman’s vote against an $11-billion revamp of Los Angeles International Airport that would create union jobs.
Parks said a Wal-Mart had revitalized a shopping center in his South Los Angeles district, created 500 jobs and saved low-income residents hundreds of dollars on purchases.
Parks confirmed that he had distributed the donated gift certificates, but noted that poor people, including union workers, accepted them. Union leaders, Parks said, are “out of touch with union membership.”
And he added that his district was one of the most affected by jet traffic at Los Angeles International Airport.
Parks said he was not surprised that Hahn captured the endorsement. “There is no mystery,” he said. “What occurred today is that Jimmy Hahn has been in the back pocket of the unions since he’s been in office.”
In the 11th Council District, where Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski is prevented by term limits from seeking reelection, the federation endorsed university instructor Bill Rosendahl, a former cable television executive. Rosendahl is running against former area planning commissioner Flora Gil Krisiloff and attorney Angela J. Reddock for the open seat.
The federation also endorsed all seven City Council incumbents who are running for reelection, as well as City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and City Controller Laura Chick.
Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.