Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, who is up for reelection, invited Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to Hollywood last week to help unveil new security cameras, a crime-fighting tool heavily used in the Windy City. Daley and Hahn have a lot in common. Both are sons of larger-than-life politician-fathers -- the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, the long-serving and controversial “boss” of Chicago, and the late L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. Both sons are known for low-key personalities and less-than-stirring speeches.
That’s where the similarities end. The younger Daley, who has been in office since 1989, has been hailed as one of the best urban leaders in the country. The younger Hahn, who to be fair is just finishing his first term, faces a pack of serious challengers. Although all the candidates in this nonpartisan election are Democrats, the incumbent Hahn could not even win the Democratic Party endorsement.
What defines that elusive quality, leadership? Will Hahn, if reelected, achieve it? Do Los Angeles voters care enough to wonder? With just five weeks to go until the March 8 city election, voter interest in who will lead the country’s second-largest city seems to amount to a collective “Whoever.”
A quick and blatantly unscientific poll of usually conscientious voters brought the following explanations:
* The Iraq war crowds everything else out.
* Last fall’s presidential election left everyone exhausted.
* Ditto for the statewide recall election of former Gov. Gray Davis the year before that.
* No candidate has said anything that grabs anybody.
* Um, who’s running?
Not one of these excuses would wash in the nation’s largest city. New Yorkers couldn’t wait to get the presidential race out of the way so they could concentrate on their mayoral matchup -- and that election’s not until fall.
Of course, the mayors of New York City and Chicago are almost mini-governors, with large city councils -- 50 or more members -- that function more like legislatures, not like the L.A. council’s 15 mini-mayors. Both Daley and New York’s Michael Bloomberg hold sway over their cities’ schools.
Or maybe in northern climes, people have to find something to take their minds off the cold and snow. Here it takes a politician with movie-star charisma to distract us. Lately, it seems to take a real movie star.
The lack of interest in the upcoming city election -- and the collective yawn over ongoing investigations into City Hall contracting practices -- may signal a cynical “they’re all alike” view of politicians.
Well, this time around, the candidates are not all alike. Take just two of four who are considered serious challengers to Hahn: Antonio Villaraigosa, now a City Council member, and Bob Hertzberg. Both are former state Assembly speakers. Both are gregarious and energetic.
Villaraigosa is known for lighting up a room, Hertzberg for hugging everyone in it. They are different from Hahn, who seems to hit the dimmer switch on entering a room, but also from each other in both philosophy and style.
Villaraigosa is considered to be ideologically more liberal, although he also is a gifted coalition builder. He is intuitive, quick at sizing up situations and recognizing talented people with good ideas.
Hertzberg is more centrist politically and is angling for business support and the more conservative Valley vote. He is considered more analytical than intuitive. Smart and organized, he is known for his wire-bound plans and charts.
We will say more about the candidates in future editorials. Our point today is that voters do have choices. One is to stay home and concede the election to the “special interests” they deride. The other is to get over their pathetically low expectations.