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Hahn’s Record, Unlike His Demeanor, Runs the Gamut

Times Staff Writer

The message Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn delivers on the campaign trail is a simple one: “Hahn gets things done.”

In the face of charges from opponents that he is an uninspired -- and uninspiring -- leader, the mayor asks voters to judge him by his record, not his personality. “I don’t think any other mayor in L.A. history has done more than I have in the first term,” Hahn said recently.

He has overseen a drop in crime, the expansion of after-school programs and the construction of more low-income housing.

Confronted with issues whose resolution could not be put off, Hahn replaced the police chief, beat back secession in the San Fernando Valley and fought Sacramento for control of local tax money.

But in more than 3 1/2 years in the mayoral suite, he has not developed long-term solutions for clogged roads, crumbling streets and other pressing problems.

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Lacking a politician’s knack for building relationships, the insular mayor has failed to put together coalitions to achieve some of his biggest initiatives. He pledged to add 1,000 new officers to the Police Department, but achieved just a little more than 10% of that goal.

And while he baffled civic leaders with inaction, others led efforts to cut the city’s business taxes, expand public transit and clean up polluted waterways.

As the mayoral election has approached, Hahn has trotted out several 11th-hour initiatives, including a proposal to give neighborhood councils more than $7 million and an unsuccessful attempt to lease the former El Toro military base in Orange County for an airport.

“When he recognizes that something is important, he has the smarts and the ability to get things done,” said City Council President Alex Padilla, who backed Hahn four years ago but has not endorsed anyone in this mayoral campaign. “I just wish he’d engage more often.”

Hahn said he was perplexed by suggestions that he hadn’t done enough. “I think about what I wanted to do,” he said in a recent interview. “I wanted to make this a safer city. I wanted to build more housing. I wanted to have more after-school programs. I wanted government to reconnect with people. And I think we’ve accomplished those goals.”

When he assumed office July 2, 2001, on the steps of City Hall, Hahn pledged to “speak less and work more.” The mayor, whose father, the late county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, coined the slogan “Hahn gets things done,” marched through a list of major issues he said he would tackle, including police reform, secession, public transit and tax reform.

Within a year, the new mayor confronted the challenges that led to his most widely acknowledged successes: replacing the police chief and preventing Los Angeles from fragmenting. But those two accomplishments have also proved politically costly, putting Hahn in conflict with many African American and San Fernando Valley voters who were critical to his election.

The campaign against secession also demanded intense fundraising activities, which have become part of investigations into allegations that some city officials traded contracts for contributions.

The Police Department demanded Hahn’s immediate attention when he took office. Homicides climbed almost 10% in 2001. The Rampart misconduct scandal continued to sully the department. Police officers, chafing under discipline policies and inflexible schedules, were in nearly open revolt against their chief.

In early 2002 Hahn responded by blocking a second term for Bernard C. Parks, the city’s second black police chief.

“Had we continued with another five years of Bernard Parks,” the mayor said recently, “there’s no doubt in my mind that the department would continue to suffer ... that we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the kinds of reforms that we needed.”

In the two full years after William J. Bratton replaced Parks, major crimes in Los Angeles fell 13% and homicides fell 20%.

“It was a very tough call ... but he had to make a tough decision to bring in someone to help revitalize the LAPD and help us move forward,” said Councilman Tom LaBonge, who has endorsed Hahn, citing the mayor’s work reducing crime in his Hollywood district.

Also in 2002, Hahn took on the burgeoning secession movement in the San Fernando Valley, where activists harnessed decades-old resentments against City Hall to push for a new city.

The mayor took to the campaign trail, crisscrossing Los Angeles for fundraisers and media events at which he sold unity and touted plans to expand local services and empower neighborhoods.

Hahn helped raise $6.3 million for the anti-secession cause. And on election day, he celebrated as voters resoundingly rejected a Valley breakaway.

Less celebrated -- but key to Los Angeles’ long-term health -- were Hahn’s efforts to safeguard the city treasury.

For years, mayors and other local leaders across California had watched helplessly as Sacramento balanced the state budget with billions of dollars of local property tax revenue that cities and counties considered critical for local services.

But last spring, when state leaders talked of skimming off even more -- $39 million on top of $175 million that Los Angeles was already slated to lose -- Hahn faced another crisis.

While some big-city mayors played minor roles, he raised money for a ballot measure that forced state leaders to the bargaining table. He lobbied legislators and the governor. And he rallied mayors to keep up pressure last summer.

“I don’t know that we could have asked any more of a big city mayor,” said Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, the former head of the California League of Cities who helped lead the campaign.

It was a display of energy and leadership that many Los Angeles civic leaders say is often missing when Hahn is not confronting a crisis.

In the face of problems that demand complex solutions or careful negotiation, the mayor has frequently failed to develop plans or has stumbled in efforts to build consensus.

Introverted and private, he has only a handful of reliable allies on the City Council. Council members and others say it can be difficult to get their calls returned, much less engage Hahn on their initiatives.

Most maddening to them, Hahn has announced initiatives as his own after others worked on them for months -- as he did last year with a proposal to limit campaign fundraising, an idea he had once opposed.

“The general public will never know about these little things, but that takes a toll after a while,” Padilla said. “And when it comes to a big issue, if the relationships aren’t there, it makes things a lot tougher.”

Nowhere has that been clearer than in Hahn’s inability to fund major expansion of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Running for mayor in 2001, he repeatedly stressed public safety as a top priority and promised to hire 1,000 new police officers. Three and half years later, although redeployments have put some additional officers on the streets, there are just 115 more sworn officers on the force, according to city records.

Hahn has blamed state lawmakers for taking the money that could have paid for the officers. “Sacramento got in the way,” he said last fall. More recently, he blamed the City Council, accusing opponents of his proposed sales tax increase to fund LAPD expansion of being “incredibly arrogant.”

But several city leaders said the mayor bore responsibility.

After his election, Hahn failed to develop a plan to find the $100 million a year needed to hire the officers.

Instead, two years ago, he tried to dip into reserve funds in the midst of a recession to expand police ranks. When a skeptical City Council balked, Hahn refused to compromise.

A year later, the mayor played only a supporting role as Sheriff Lee Baca pushed a county sales tax increase that would have paid for the officers Hahn wanted. When that effort failed last fall, the mayor abruptly directed the City Council to put a tax before voters.

But he did not consult with council members or other civic leaders who he said would have to lead a tax campaign while he was campaigning for reelection.

The council rejected Hahn’s plan in November.

This month, Hahn again lost, unable to sway several council members with whom he does not have strong relationships. Even the two reserve police officers on the council voted against the tax plan.

“It’s a sad commentary,” said Councilman Dennis Zine, who has endorsed Hahn’s reelection campaign but indicated after the tax vote that he might reconsider. “They always wait until the last minute to do these things.... Where is the leadership and the planning?”

Asked recently whether he would have done anything differently, Hahn said: “I did all I could do.”

On other major issues confronting the city, the mayor has similarly puzzled his colleagues in city government with his administration’s apparent lack of planning.

Despite the pledge in his inaugural address to make “fixing our streets and roads” a “top priority,” the city is resurfacing fewer than half as many streets as it was five years ago, largely because of cuts in state funding.

And although a Hahn-appointed task force in 2003 concluded that the city needed to spend $340 million to repair 1,000 miles of “failed” streets, the mayor has proposed no plan to do that.

The new mayor also called four years ago for the “vision to build a transit system that will make our city and its many opportunities accessible to all people.”

But to the chagrin of public transit advocates, Hahn has not played the kind of leadership role at the powerful Metropolitan Transportation Authority that other local officials have.

Unlike Richard Riordan, who was chairman of the MTA board for two years when he was mayor, Hahn passed on the chairmanship and has missed about a quarter of the board meetings since he became mayor. Hahn said he was focused on fighting secession at the time.

Meanwhile, LaBonge, not Hahn, recently renewed the drive to extend the Red Line subway to the ocean, a move the mayor is now supporting. And county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has been a more forceful advocate for the new Exposition Boulevard rail line through South Los Angeles.

Hahn points to his work synchronizing traffic lights and installing 25 left-turn lanes a year at busy Los Angeles intersections.

On some issues that require less long-range planning and consensus building, the mayor has had success, even if he has fallen short of his promises.

Hahn expanded the popular LA’s BEST after-school program to 52 more elementary schools, increasing the number of schools with programs to 130.

But despite his 2001 promise to take LA’s BEST to “every elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District,” there are still 48 eligible schools without the program.

The mayor also pledged four years ago to create a $100-million “trust fund” to support affordable housing development.

Increased spending on low-income housing under Hahn has helped add nearly 2,000 units of affordable housing. But despite the recommendations of his own housing task force, the mayor has not dedicated a permanent stream of revenue to create a true trust fund.

“We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were,” said Jan Breidenbach, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Non-Profit Housing. “But to say we have reached the goal is not right.”

Progress on some other major issues followed long periods of inaction by Hahn or came only after someone else took the initiative.

Last year, he pushed modernization of Los Angeles International Airport further than any other mayor in two decades.

Hahn called the plan a “tremendous achievement,” but many civic leaders say it would have failed if a City Council member had not rescued it at the last minute.

The mayor unveiled his airport plan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, outlining an ambitious proposal to bolster security by constructing a massive new check-in facility outside the airport.

Yet, for two years, as criticism of the plan mounted from airport neighbors, civic leaders and security experts, Hahn did not negotiate.

The mayor didn’t appear at many community meetings. He fought a proposal to have experts assess how best to secure the airport against terrorists. Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, whose district includes LAX, said she could “count on one hand” the number of discussions she had with Hahn about the airport plan.

Only when it became clear that his plan faced imminent defeat last year did the mayor budge, agreeing to a compromise developed by Miscikowski. In December the council approved a revised plan that deferred -- and could eventually eliminate -- Hahn’s proposed check-in terminal.

Business leaders pushing to reform the city’s business taxes, which Hahn identified as a priority in his inaugural address, also found their most helpful allies on the City Council, not in the mayor’s office.

After years of complaints from businesses that the complicated tax on gross receipts was driving away jobs, the City Council last year approved a series of tax breaks.

Hahn did not announce his support until eight months after a group of council members had proposed them and six months after he tried unsuccessfully to balance the city budget with $5.8 million from a special fund created to reduce business taxes.

The mayor also cites his environmental record as one his biggest achievements, claiming at a recent mayoral debate that his administration was “changing the direction of the Port of Los Angeles and the Department of Water and Power,” historically two of the city’s largest polluters.

Many environmentalists say the city has indeed made significant strides in recent years to reduce air pollution and clean up polluted waterways. But often, the mayor has played only a limited or belated role.

Hahn ordered the DWP to withdraw from a controversial coal power plant in Utah last fall only after years of pressure and after his administration had spent more than $1.8 million on the project.

Last summer, he backed a settlement of an environmental lawsuit over leaking sewage lines under pressure from council members and after the city had spent more than $5 million fighting the suit.

The mayor played only a secondary role in the campaign for a bond measure that will help clean up the polluted Los Angeles River and other local waterways.

And though Hahn often talks up his efforts to reduce air pollution at the port, he has failed to fulfill his 2001 pledge of “no net increase” in pollution there.

Today, three years and seven months after Hahn took office, another task force is drawing up a plan to address that issue.

Gail Ruderman Feuer, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council who has been fighting port pollution for years, said activists were encouraged that there finally appeared to be movement.

“The real test will be whether the mayor and port respond,” she said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The Hahn record

Campaigning for a second term, Mayor James K. Hahn frequently touts his record of improving the quality of life in Los Angeles. How he has fared on some of the major issues confronting the city:

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Issue: Crime

Promise: Hahn stressed public safety in his 2001 campaign, pledging to work to make Los Angeles safer.

Record: In 2003 and 2004, after Hahn tapped William J. Bratton to be police chief in 2002, serious crime fell 13% and homicides fell 20%.

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Issue: Police Staffing

Promise: Hahn promised to hire 1,000 more officers.

Record: Between July 14, 2001 - shortly after Hahn took office - and

Jan. 22, 2005, the department grew by 115 officers.

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Issue: Education

Promise: Hahn said he would expand the city-funded LA’s BEST after-school program to “every elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.”

Record: Hahn expanded the program to 52 more elementary schools, bringing the total to 130. But there are still 48 eligible schools without the program.

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Issue: Street Repair

Promise: “Fixing our streets and roads must be a top priority,” Hahn said in his inaugural address.

Record: In fiscal year 1999-2000, the city resurfaced 275 miles of streets. This fiscal year, the city plans to resurface 135 miles.

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Issue: Housing

Promise: Hahn promised to create a $100-million trust fund to spur development of affordable housing.

Record: Hahn has created a fund that has helped develop nearly 2,000 new low-income homes, but it is not a true trust fund, as it must be financed out of the city budget each year.

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Source: Times reports


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