Sitting astride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle Saturday afternoon, mayoral candidate Bernard C. Parks watched with a big grin as leather-clad bikers danced to a rap song written in his honor.
And for the city councilman and former police chief, that was just a small part of a frantic day of campaigning that stretched from South Los Angeles early in the morning to the San Fernando Valley in the afternoon.
Parks and the other top mayoral candidates traversed hundreds of miles, dozens of communities and countless fashion genres in a quest to reach voters on the second-to-last weekend before they head to the polls on March 8.
In a race that seems to have failed to attract much attention from a distracted electorate, the candidates have finally begun to draw attention as they exhort the faithful to get their message out.
“Call everybody you know. Knock on every door we can,” Mayor James K. Hahn said Saturday morning in a San Pedro union hall. With his sister, Councilwoman Janice Hahn, and his son, Jackson, at his side, Hahn implored the assembled laborers to get out the vote.
“Ten days from now we have an election, the first stop in deciding the future of the city of Los Angeles,” Hahn said. “We’ve got to start working today to make sure we get the right result 10 days from now.... It’s time for those boots to hit the pavement.”
Antonio Villaraigosa delivered much the same message to a diverse crowd -- including someone dressed as a frog -- at an afternoon rally in Mar Vista.
“I’ve heard a lot about this campaign” not being “exciting,” he said. “Is there excitement right now?”
The crowd responded with cheers and then quieted as the councilman laid out his vision for “a great, green city” and told them to prepare for “a lot of work.”
“Go phone bank,” he said. “Go walk. We have got to get people to realize this election is important.”
Villaraigosa, who lost a runoff against Hahn in 2001, has been talking for so many hours each day that he is starting to go hoarse, prompting his staff members to bring him tea loaded with so much honey it left their hands sticky.
Four years ago, media from around the world focused on Villaraigosa, who had a chance of becoming the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles since 1872. He fell seven points short of beating Hahn.
On Saturday, the international press was back.
A reporter from Mexico City’s El Universal asked the candidate if he thought Los Angeles was ready for him.
“Absolutely,” he answered.
Villaraigosa, state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley) and Parks began Saturday with an 8 a.m. forum in South Los Angeles sponsored by the Los Angeles Sentinel, an L.A. African American newspaper. The lively, 90-minute session touched on such issues as traffic, crime and gangs.
Hahn and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg did not show, leading the moderator to ask the panel why they thought only the candidates of color -- two Latinos and one African American -- had bothered to come.
“This is now the fourth debate we have had in South Los Angeles. The mayor hasn’t shown up to one of them,” Parks replied. “What that says is this community is not a priority, this community is not important enough.”
Less than an hour after that debate ended, Parks and Villaraigosa were together again in a coffee shop in Leimert Park, discussing, before an audience of about 50, the Los Angeles Police Department, how to keep business in the city and the Department of Water and Power.
Parks then hit several more events, from a community demonstration to an impromptu lecture to teachers in South Los Angeles, before meeting with scores of motorcyclists.
The motorcycles belonged to several African American biker clubs, including a few with religious themes. The bikers cruised through the city for much of the day on shiny Harley-Davidsons plastered with purple placards that read “Parks for Mayor.”
Parks also began airing his first television commercial, in which a narrator, citing a Times poll, calls him “No. 1 in honesty” and “No. 1 in fighting crime.”
While images of Parks in his chief of police uniform and in a suit appear on the screen, the narrator says that in a city “with corruption and a rising homicide rate, Bernard Parks is the people’s choice.”
Also on Saturday, Hertzberg made himself available at his Encino headquarters to answer questions about his new television commercial, which features a gigantic Hertzberg discussing his issues.
The event had initially been slated for Friday, when the ad began airing. No one from the media, however, showed up for the Saturday event. But Hahn offered his commentary on the ad after being asked by a reporter: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
Villaraigosa and Hahn stopped by a meeting of the Democratic Club of the San Fernando Valley at Valley College. They each spoke for a few minutes. Most notable was the different reception the two received.
As Hahn spoke, several hundred members milled around and lined up to cast votes for party officers. When Villaraigosa took the mike, the members turned around, listened and then cheered heartily.
Alarcon, meanwhile, spent Saturday traversing the San Fernando Valley in a minibus joined by a clutch of supporters, stopping in five neighborhoods to tout parts of his agenda. At a small park on a Tujunga hillside, Alarcon stressed his commitment to increasing the influence of neighborhood councils.
Casting himself as a champion of those who feel neglected by City Hall, Alarcon recalled a childhood of riding bikes in the Tujunga Wash and swimming in local ponds. Alarcon, who lags far behind his competitors in fundraising, said he has a chance of making an expected May runoff, but acknowledged that his mayoral bid is a longshot.
“I’m not going to tell you that it’s not an uphill climb,” he said. “I entered this race to convey messages, to provide ideas, and I feel very good about the ideas we’ve presented.”
Times staff writers Faye Fiore, Noam N. Levey and Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this report.