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2 Rivals Eroding Hahn’s Strengths

Times Staff Writer

Three candidates for mayor of Los Angeles are locked in a statistical tie for the lead in next week’s election, with incumbent James K. Hahn and challengers Bob Hertzberg and Antonio Villaraigosa battling for two slots in a likely May runoff, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

The survey found a surge in support for Hertzberg, a Sherman Oaks lawyer and former state Assembly speaker. Over the last month, as he has aired distinctive television ads, his popularity has risen across a range of constituencies that helped propel Hahn into office four years ago: whites, San Fernando Valley residents, Republicans, conservatives, moderates and Jewish voters.

In an alarming finding for Hahn, nearly two-thirds of likely voters say they think Los Angeles needs to move in a new direction. That sentiment is even stronger among African American and Valley voters, former political mainstays for the mayor. Only 43% of likely voters approve of the way he is handling his job -- well below the safety threshold for an incumbent.

If the election were held today, the poll found, Villaraigosa, a city councilman, would win 24%, followed by Hertzberg, 21%, and Hahn, 20%. In effect, though, the three are tied, because the margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Hertzberg’s upward movement came largely from previously undecided voters, who vaulted him ahead of City Councilman Bernard C. Parks. Roughly tied with Hertzberg a month ago, Parks has dropped to fourth place, capturing 11%. State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley) is stuck in fifth with 5%.

The poll found 19% undecided, leaving ample room for a large voter shift in the final week before next Tuesday’s election. Unless one candidate earns more than 50% of the vote, the top two will advance to a May 17 runoff.

The poll illustrates a dilemma the competing candidates face in deciding whether to finish the race with a burst of negative television ads. Any temptation by Hahn, for one, to try to stop Hertzberg’s rise or weaken Villaraigosa could be offset by the danger of attack ads backfiring on the mayor. A similar fate could befall any aggressor.

So far, Hahn and his challengers have stuck to positive ads stressing their accomplishments and campaign agendas. But at daily campaign stops and in a flurry of mailers, Hahn’s rivals take aim at him over a criminal investigation of city contracting and the mayor’s campaign fundraising, a theme they could amplify in TV ads. The investigation has led three top city officials to resign, but no one in Hahn’s administration has been charged with a crime, and Hahn denies any wrongdoing.

The poll reflects the damage Hahn has already suffered from news reports on the investigation -- and on his challengers’ stinging comments about it. Just half of likely voters say Hahn has the honesty and integrity to serve as mayor. More than a third believe he does not. Unfortunately for Hahn, likely voters name honesty as the top characteristic they want in a mayor.

“I don’t like the way he raises money,” Richard Hirsch, an 83-year-old Westwood poll respondent, said in a follow-up interview. Hirsch, a Villaraigosa supporter, said he objected to the “cronyism” and “pay to play” culture in Hahn’s administration.

“I was raised in Chicago, and I saw it firsthand,” he said, adding: “I’m not proud of [Hahn] as mayor.”

The survey, supervised by Times Poll director Susan Pinkus, was conducted by telephone Feb. 22-27. It surveyed 1,636 registered voters, including 710 deemed likely to vote.

The most striking change since the last Times poll four weeks ago is the growth in support for Hertzberg, the first candidate to run TV ads in the race. Eclipsing Hahn, he has emerged as the clear favorite of Republican, conservative, white and elderly voters. With Jewish voters, Hertzberg also has taken a solid lead, surpassing Villaraigosa.

In the Valley, Hertzberg’s share of the vote has grown to more than a third, strengthening his front-runner status on his home turf. Villaraigosa has pushed ahead to second place in the Valley, while Hahn has fallen to a distant third in an area where he ran strong in 2001.

The Valley’s high turnout rates make it a crucial voting bloc in city elections. In the 2001 mayoral race, the Valley made up 42% of the vote.

Hertzberg’s startling television ads -- in which he morphs into a giant traversing the tiny city -- have clearly powered his rise. A majority of likely voters favors his proposal to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District -- and among those voters, Hertzberg is the top choice for mayor. Voters also give him an edge when it comes to who is best suited to lessening traffic congestion. Both issues are spotlighted in his ads.

“He just sounds refreshing,” said Hollywood composer Kevin Hiatt, 57, an independent who supports Hertzberg largely because of his transportation and education proposals.

Yet Hertzberg’s weaknesses are evident: Just 2% of African Americans support him, and 5% of Latinos. In South Los Angeles, Hertzberg captures just 3% of the vote. And younger voters strongly favor Villaraigosa -- or, to a lesser extent, Hahn -- over Hertzberg.

Another potential trouble spot for Hertzberg is the challenge he faces in introducing himself to the full electorate. More than four in 10 likely voters say they do not know enough about Hertzberg to have a positive or negative impression of him, leaving opponents plenty of room to tarnish his image as he tries to define himself to voters on his own terms.

Still, Hertzberg’s success in eroding Hahn’s political base is already significant. Of those who voted for Hahn in his 2001 runoff with Villaraigosa, 26% are defecting to Hertzberg, 13% to Parks and 8% to Villaraigosa. Just 29% support Hahn’s reelection.

By contrast, Villaraigosa is holding a majority of the voters who backed him four years ago, with 14% of them switching to Hertzberg, 10% to Alarcon, and smaller portions to other candidates.

The poll is not entirely bad news for Hahn, who, though not surging like Hertzberg, at least retains a wide breadth of support. Regardless of age, ethnicity, geography, income, ideology, party membership or education level, he holds a relatively even base, with no pockets of great strength or weakness.

But his pillars in 2001 continued to disappoint: Besides losing Valley voters to Hertzberg, Hahn, despite concerted efforts, made no progress in the last month among his African American base. Roughly one in five African Americans favors the mayor’s reelection, a sharp drop from April 2001, when Hahn won 71% of the black vote. The collapse stems largely from Hahn’s support for ousting Parks as police chief in 2002.

As for Hahn’s handling of the fatal police shooting of a 13-year-old African American boy last month in South L.A., it does not seem to have strongly affected his standing among black voters. The poll found African Americans roughly split on the way Hahn has handled the shooting of Devin Brown, while a narrow plurality citywide approves of how the mayor has dealt with the situation.

Elsewhere, Hahn’s share of the Westside vote has grown to nearly a third, well ahead of his rivals. In 2001, that area favored Villaraigosa over Hahn. Mimi Weber, 78, a Westside talent manager, gives Hahn credit for hiring William J. Bratton as police chief.

“I like the idea that [Hahn] keeps trying to fight for more police on the street and better opportunities for children,” she said. “He’s trying to do a lot, and we’re a big city, and it’s not easy.”

Hahn’s popularity has also risen among Jewish voters in recent weeks. Their first choice is Hertzberg, but Hahn and Villaraigosa are roughly tied for second. And although Hahn’s support among Latinos has remained static over the last month, it is higher than four years ago.

Hahn is roughly tied with Villaraigosa on the question of which candidate has the best leadership qualities, and runs even with Hertzberg on who would best promote the city’s economic prosperity.

An important question in next week’s election is whether Hahn’s modest standing with a wide variety of voting groups could be trumped by rivals’ undisputed strength among specific blocs of loyalists.

Villaraigosa, for instance, holds a robust 45% of Latinos, while Hertzberg has nearly as large a share of Jewish voters. Hahn, however, fails to reach a full third of support from any major voting bloc.

By one measure, the most popular candidate is Villaraigosa: Two-thirds of likely voters hold a favorable impression of him. The former state Assembly speaker is the favorite of Democrats, liberals, Latinos, Catholics and voters under 45.

He made gains last month among moderate, conservative, Jewish and Valley voters. But all of those groups still prefer Hertzberg, and Hahn, too, is more popular than Villaraigosa among conservatives.

On the Westside, Villaraigosa’s support dropped last month as Hahn, Hertzberg and Parks advanced. But Villaraigosa grew slightly stronger in South L.A., where Hahn and Parks are the favorites. A resident of Mount Washington, Villaraigosa continues to perform best in a central swath of Los Angeles, from Hollywood to East L.A.

The poll also found that Villaraigosa’s base is the most solid, with his supporters the least likely to change their minds before the election. And despite his loss of his major 2001 labor endorsements to Hahn in this election, Villaraigosa still retains a strong lead with union voters. They favor Villaraigosa over the incumbent, 32% to 19%.

Villaraigosa is also seen as the candidate most fit to improve the city’s public schools, despite the popularity of Hertzberg’s district breakup plan. He also leads on the question of which of Hahn’s challengers has the most honesty and integrity to serve as mayor.

“He’s a natural leader,” said Kathy Diaz, 52, a Glassell Park editor who supports Villaraigosa. “I think he knows the city well, and I think he addresses the issues the city’s concerned about. I just like his touch.”

For Parks, an African American, the poll found steady strength among black voters, with 40% supporting him.

But Parks’ campaign has been hampered by lackluster fundraising, and the poll found a decline in his support among Republicans, conservatives, Valley voters, the elderly and Latinos. But Parks is still seen as the candidate who would do the best job of holding down crime.

The poll’s findings were the most grim for Alarcon. Mired in single digits with nearly every voting group, he has made small gains among Latinos and lower-income voters but continues to be overshadowed by Villaraigosa. The poll found Alarcon with 13% of the Latino vote, and 10% support among those who earn less than $40,000 per year.

Contributing to this report were Times Poll associate director Jill Darling Richardson and data management supervisor Claudia Vaughn.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Voter trend

Q: For whom would you vote in the March 8 election for mayor of Los Angeles?

Now

Antonio Villaraigosa: 24%

Bob Hertzberg: 21%

James Hahn: 20%

Bernard Parks: 11%

Richard Alarcon: 5%

Don’t know: 19%

*

Late January

Antonio Villaraigosa: 20%

Bob Hertzberg: 12%

James Hahn: 21%

Bernard Parks: 13%

Richard Alarcon: 3%

Don’t know: 31%

*

Source: Times Poll

--

The race for mayor

Los Angeles residents who are considered likely to vote in the upcoming mayoral election were asked:

Q: Who do you think has the best leadership qualities to become mayor?

Now

Antonio Villaraigosa: 24%

James Hahn: 23%

Bob Hertzberg: 17%

Bernard Parks: 9%

Richard Alarcon: 5%

All equally/ none: 8%

Don’t know: 14%

Late January

Antonio Villaraigosa: 19%

James Hahn: 22%

Bob Hertzberg: 12%

Bernard Parks: 14%

Richard Alarcon: 4%

All equally/ none: 9%

Don’t know: 20%

--

Q: Which candidate would be best at:

Promoting economic prosperity

Alarcon: 5%

Hahn: 23%

Hertzberg: 23%

Parks: 7%

Villaraigosa: 18%

Don’t Know: 18%

Decreasing crime

Alarcon: 3%

Hahn: 20%

Hertzberg: 9%

Parks: 31%

Villaraigosa: 16%

Don’t Know: 15%

mproving traffic/ transportation

Alarcon: 4%

Hahn: 15%

Hertzberg: 21%

Parks: 10%

Villaraigosa: 18%

Don’t Know: 20%

Improving city’s public schools

Alarcon: 4%

Hahn: 13%

Hertzberg: 21%

Parks: 6%

Villaraigosa: 25%

Don’t Know: 18%

--

Q: Do you think Los Angeles is better off because of James Hahn’s policies, or does it need a new direction?

Continue Hahn’s policies

All likely voters: 26%

Westside: 36%

San Fernando Valley: 20%

Central Los Angeles: 26%

South Los Angeles: 20%

Needs a new direction

All likely voters: 65%

Westside: 54%

San Fernando Valley: 73%

Central Los Angeles: 66%

South Los Angeles: 59%

Don’t know

All likely voters: 9%

Westside: 10%

San Fernando Valley: 7%

Central Los Angeles: 8%

South Los Angeles: 11%

--

Favorable, Now

Alarcon: 37%

Hahn: 53%

Hertzberg: 44%

Parks: 48%

Villaraigosa: 66%

Favorable, Late January

Alarcon: 31%

Hahn: 51%

Hertzberg: 34%

Parks: 51%

Villaraigosa: 55%

Unfavorable, Now

Alarcon: 20%

Hahn: 42%

Hertzberg: 15%

Parks: 39%

Villaraigosa: 22%

Unfavorable, Late January

Alarcon: 16%

Hahn: 41%

Hertzberg: 7%

Parks: 33%

Villaraigosa: 21%

--

Q: James Hahn did not advocate the reappointment of Bernard Parks to a second term as Los Angeles police chief. Will that make you more or less likely to vote for Hahn, or play no role?

More likely

All likely voters: 10%

Whites: 9%

Blacks: 10%

Latinos: 18%

Less likely

All likely voters: 13%

Whites: 10%

Blacks: 27%

Latinos: 11%

No role

All likely voters: 73%

Whites: 79%

Blacks: 56%

Latinos: 67%

Don’t know

All likely voters: 4%

Whites: 2%

Blacks: 7%

Latinos: 4%

--

Q: Local and federal prosecutors are investigating whether city contracts were awarded for political contributons to James Hahn’s campaign. Hahn denies the allegations. Will that make you more or less likely to vote for him, or play no role?

More likely

All likely voters: 8%

Whites: 5%

Blacks: 12%

Latinos: 16%

Less likely

All likely voters: 37%

Whites: 43%

Blacks: 26%

Latinos: 34%

No role

All likely voters: 49%

Whites: 49%

Blacks: 51%

Latinos: 43%

Don’t know

All likely voters: 6%

Whites: 3%

Blacks: 11%

Latinos: 7%

--

Q: Local and federal prosecutors are investigating whether city contracts were awarded for political contributons to James Hahn’s campaign. Hahn denies the allegations. Will that make you more or less likely to vote for him, or play no role?

More likely

All likely voters: 8%

Whites: 5%

Blacks: 12%

Latinos: 16%

Less likely

All likely voters: 37%

Whites: 43%

Blacks: 26%

Latinos: 34%

No role

All likely voters: 49%

Whites: 49%

Blacks: 51%

Latinos: 43%

Don’t know

All likely voters: 6%

Whites: 3%

Blacks: 11%

Latinos: 7%

--

Q: Local and federal prosecutors are investigating whether city contracts were awarded for political contributons to James Hahn’s campaign. Hahn denies the allegations. Will that make you more or less likely to vote for him, or play no role?

More likely

All likely voters: 8%

Whites: 5%

Blacks: 12%

Latinos: 16%

Less likely

All likely voters: 37%

Whites: 43%

Blacks: 26%

Latinos: 34%

No role

All likely voters: 49%

Whites: 49%

Blacks: 51%

Latinos: 43%

Don’t know

All likely voters: 6%

Whites: 3%

Blacks: 11%

Latinos: 7%

--

Q: Local and federal prosecutors are investigating whether city contracts were awarded for political contributons to James Hahn’s campaign. Hahn denies the allegations. Will that make you more or less likely to vote for him, or play no role?

More likely

All likely voters: 8%

Whites: 5%

Blacks: 12%

Latinos: 16%

Less likely

All likely voters: 37%

Whites: 43%

Blacks: 26%

Latinos: 34%

No role

All likely voters: 49%

Whites: 49%

Blacks: 51%

Latinos: 43%

Don’t know

All likely voters: 6%

Whites: 3%

Blacks: 11%

Latinos: 7%

--

Q: Local and federal prosecutors are investigating whether city contracts were awarded for political contributons to James Hahn’s campaign. Hahn denies the allegations. Will that make you more or less likely to vote for him, or play no role?

More likely

All likely voters: 8%

Whites: 5%

Blacks: 12%

Latinos: 16%

Less likely

All likely voters: 37%

Whites: 43%

Blacks: 26%

Latinos: 34%

No role

All likely voters: 49%

Whites: 49%

Blacks: 51%

Latinos: 43%

Don’t know

All likely voters: 6%

Whites: 3%

Blacks: 11%

Latinos: 7%

--

Note: Results may not add up to 100% where some answer categories are not shown.

Times Poll results and analysis are also available at latimes.com/timespoll.

--

How the poll was conducted: The Times Poll contacted 2,525 adults in Los Angeles by telephone Feb. 22-27. Among them were 1,636 registered voters, including 710 deemed likely to vote in the March election. Likely voters were determined by a screening process which included questions on intention to vote, certainty of vote, interest in the campaign and voting history, including absentee voting. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the city, and random-digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Additional African American and Latino voters were contacted in separate random samples to allow more accurate analysis of their subgroups. Adults in the entire sample were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census proportions by sex, ethnicity, age, education, city region and party registration. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points in either direction. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions were presented. Interviews in the supplemental samples were conducted by Interviewing Service of America, Van Nuys. Although Asian voters were interviewed and are included as part of the overall results in this poll, they are too small a subgroup of the sample to be separately reported. Interviews in all samples were conducted in both English and Spanish.


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