Choose the Moon


Mayor James K. Hahn didn’t promise voters the moon when he ran for office four years ago. What Los Angeles wants of a mayor, he said then and says now as he seeks reelection, is a nuts-and-bolts manager who can make the city work, not a leader with “vision” or even a leader who is particularly visible. The scion of a political family with 20 years as city attorney and city controller, Hahn sold himself as right for the job he had defined.

As voters, many with mail-in ballots already in hand, weigh whether to give Hahn another four years, here are two questions to ponder:

Has he met these modest goals?

Can’t the nation’s second-largest city have the moon as well? Hahn’s top two achievements came in his first two years in office: He hired outspoken police reformer William J. Bratton to head the Los Angeles Police Department, and he led the campaign that kept Los Angeles from breaking apart into three cities.


Both were gutsy moves that cost him political support among constituencies that had helped elect him. Many in Los Angeles’ black community were outraged when Hahn dumped then-Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, the highest-ranking African American in city government. (Parks subsequently ran for City Council and is now among the mayor’s challengers in the March 8 election.) Hahn’s handling of the politically delicate decision lacked finesse. But it’s impossible to deny the strides made under Bratton, whether in crime-fighting or police reform. The chief’s reputation, in fact, is matched only by his ego. Luckily, Hahn doesn’t appear to worry about being outshone. It’s an instance in which his low-key style is an asset.

Hahn’s challengers in the mayoral race now fault his tough, energetic campaign against San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession as too negative. Imagine what they would have said if Los Angeles had broken apart. What has come back to haunt Hahn, however, are political donations to his anti-secession campaign. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

The question is, are Hahn’s two key accomplishments, however significant, enough? Or do they stand out precisely because they are the exception?

Then What?

The rest of Hahn’s four-year record is more mixed.

He deserves credit for backing a $100-million trust fund to build affordable housing, for expanding the city’s LA’s Best after-school program and for persistently focusing on gang violence.

He signed a business tax reform, but City Council members Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti did the hard work to get the measure adopted. Likewise, Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski deserves the credit for a compromise plan for modernizing Los Angeles International Airport, after a plan pushed by Hahn managed to alienate pro-growth and no-growth supporters alike.

Progress made in synchronizing traffic lights and installing left-turn signals has been overshadowed by Hahn’s lack of attention to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where he ostensibly controls four of the 13 votes and should be able to exert a powerful influence. He was all but invisible during the 2003 transit strike that left thousands of low-income residents unable to get to work. It was Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa (Hahn’s former and current opponent) who pushed forward a settlement.


Hahn has increasingly been unable to build support on the City Council. He is also openly feuding with City Controller Laura Chick, who accuses Hahn of not responding to audits critical of city spending.

An elected official is only as effective as the staff members he appoints, and Hahn chose his staff more for loyalty than skill. Hahn’s best-known staff member was former Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, who is a public figure only because of federal and county investigations into whether officials in Hahn’s administration used city contracts to reward campaign contributors.

Where Hahn has most failed to live up to expectations is in protecting City Hall’s reputation as a fair place to do business. Hahn has vigorously denied any knowledge of “pay to play” schemes. But what kind of message did he send in naming Edwards, his chief campaign fundraiser, to serve as liaison between his office and the city departments that offer the most lucrative contracts? How does it look to accept campaign contributions, tap free advice and trade employees with a public relations firm later found to be padding city billings?

Criminal findings aside, the patterns revealed by audits and public records look bad and make the city look bad. The mayor who prides himself on understanding how things work claims to not know what’s going on inside his own City Hall.

Measuring the Mayor

By Hahn’s definition of the job, his record as mayor is mixed -- two striking accomplishments, one key failure, a lot else that falls in between. But his is not the full measure of a mayor.

A candidate doesn’t get to define what a mayor should be. The people do that. And surely this most vibrant of cities yearns for a leader to match.


Leadership is not just about charm and warmth. Los Angeles’ two previous mayors weren’t glad-handing back-slappers any more than Hahn is. Tom Bradley hid his emotions behind a poker face. Richard Riordan was hardly a riveting speaker. Neither was a perfect mayor. But Bradley was an extraordinary coalition builder who worked hard seven days a week, in his office and in countless civic functions and ceremonies. He oversaw the rise of downtown office towers and hosted the Olympic Games. Riordan broadened the city’s notion of a mayor, urging school reform, championing a new City Charter and recruiting his billionaire buddies to get Disney Hall built. What the two shared was not just energy but the ability to energize others.

What Los Angeles needs is a mayor who not only hires a reformer police chief but rallies all neighborhoods to support his campaign against crime, a mayor who not only beats back secession but wins over and unites the disgruntled residents. It’s a tall order. Los Angeles should reach that high.

The Times’ mayoral endorsement will run next Sunday.