The television campaign
The top three candidates launched new television ads Thursday that, for the first time, take direct shots at their opponents. Mayor James K. Hahn criticizes both Bob Hertzberg and Antonio Villaraigosa for their records as state assemblymen. Villaraigosa takes on Hahn for “corruption in his administration.” And Hertzberg dismisses Hahn’s latest television ad as “another Jim Hahn excuse.”
Mayor James K. Hahn’s new ad
Claim: “Sacramento politicians Antonio Villaraigosa and Bob Hertzberg are running negative attack campaigns.”
Analysis: Though neither candidate had explicitly attacked Hahn in their commercials until Thursday, both have taken frequent swipes at him in public forums, accusing him of running a dirty campaign and suggesting the presence of “corruption” at City Hall. In one TV ad, Villaraigosa speaks of the need to “restore people’s trust of their government.” Hertzberg distributed a mailer depicting a car with the license plate “JHAHN” and a bumper sticker that reads, “I brake for campaign contributors.”
Claim: “Hertzberg secretly worked with Enron to bail Enron out. And Villaraigosa backed Enron’s deregulation bill. Both took thousands in contributions from Enron.”
Analysis: Hertzberg was Assembly speaker at the height of the energy crisis in 2000 and 2001 and played a central role in efforts to devise a solution. In the spring of 2001, he met with Enron’s then-chief executive officer Kenneth Lay and had several conversations with Enron officials.
Hertzberg worked to keep the state’s utilities, which were billions of dollars in debt to Enron and other energy companies, from going bankrupt. At the time, some consumer activists accused Hertzberg of trying to bail out the utilities. But several key players in the negotiations said recently there was no evidence Hertzberg was trying to “bail Enron out” at the expense of consumers.
For his part, Villaraigosa was one of 116 legislators who approved the deregulation plan in 1996; no one voted against it.
Enron did lobby strongly for the plan. But when it passed, leading consumer groups had dropped their opposition and the measure was widely expected to drive down prices for consumers.
The candidates raised money from Enron before it was accused of manipulating the state’s flawed energy market.
Villaraigosa and Hertzberg raised $18,000 and $13,000, respectively, from Enron for campaign funds they controlled.
Hahn has said he did not take money from Enron. But campaign finance records show Enron gave him $900 when he was city attorney.
Claim: “Both raided hundreds of millions from L.A. taxpayers to bail out Sacramento.”
Analysis: Under a budget deal worked out in Sacramento in the early 1990s, the state has been using billions of dollars in local property taxes to help balance the state budget. The National League of Cities estimates that since 1992 and 1993 -- when the shift began -- Los Angeles has lost more than $1.2 billion to the state.
Neither Villaraigosa nor Hertzberg were in the Legislature when the property tax shift began. But when Villaraigosa was Assembly speaker from 1998 to 2000 and Hertzberg was speaker from 2000 to 2002, both voted for state budgets that relied on local property taxes.
However, the city’s share of state tax revenue went up by $95 million during Villaraigosa’s three-year tenure as speaker. As state lawmakers, Villaraigosa and Hertzberg also helped pass legislation and statewide bond measures that directed hundreds of millions of dollars to Los Angeles for new schools, parks and public transit.
Under a compromise worked out last year between state leaders and local government leaders, including Hahn, it will be harder for the state to increase its reliance on local property taxes in future years.
Claim: “Both Villaraigosa and Hertzberg wrote official letters to get a convicted crack cocaine dealer pardoned.”
Analysis: Both candidates were among a dozen local officials who wrote letters to the White House and other federal officials on behalf of Carlos Vignali, a convicted drug dealer whose sentence was commuted by President Clinton. Many of the politicians who intervened received some of the more than $150,000 Vignali’s father donated to officeholders after his son was incarcerated.
Neither Hertzberg nor Villaraigosa explicitly sought a pardon for Vignali. Rather, in his letter to Clinton on Dec. 7, 2000, Hertzberg asked the president to commute Vignali’s sentence. He said the convicted dealer had been a “model prisoner” and noted that “neither guns, drugs nor drug money was found in Mr. Vignali’s possession” when he was arrested.
Villaraigosa wrote a letter to the White House pardon secretary on May 24, 1996, asking for consideration of Vignali’s appeal. “I am convinced that he has been falsely linked to a drug ring,” he wrote, adding that he believed that the conviction was “a product of ‘guilt by association,’ among other factors.”
When Vignali’s release became an issue in his 2001 mayoral campaign, Villaraigosa expressed regret for sending a letter on his behalf, saying that he had misunderstood Vignali’s role in the drug ring.
Hertzberg, who was not a candidate at the time, did not comment on the role he played when the issue first surfaced.
On Thursday, he said he had made a mistake.
Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa’s new ad
Claim: “Because of corruption in his administration, Jim Hahn’s campaign is in trouble.... His administration is under investigation by a federal grand jury.”
Analysis: To date, no one in the Hahn administration has been charged with corruption. But multiple city officials and city contractors have testified before grand juries. And federal and local prosecutors have been subpoenaing contracting documents and other evidence from city government for more than a year amid allegations that contractors were pressured to give contributions to the mayor’s campaigns.
Claim: “His own documents and e-mails subpoenaed by investigators.”
Analysis: The U.S. attorney’s office last year did subpoena all of Hahn’s e-mails, as well as those of many top aides.
Claim: “Three Hahn appointees resigned in contracting scandals.”
Analysis: In the midst of the probes, Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, who oversaw the airports, port and Department of Water and Power, and Airport Commission President Ted Stein resigned. Both were major Hahn fundraisers, and Stein helped raise thousands of dollars from companies that appeared before his commission. DWP Commissioner Leland Wong, another Hahn fundraiser, resigned amid allegations that he had misused his employer’s funds for political purposes and steered an airport contract to a friend.
Claim: “A Hahn fundraiser charged with money laundering.”
Analysis: Hahn fundraiser Mark Alan Abrams was fined a record $270,000 for arranging illegal contributions to Hahn’s 2001 mayoral campaign. Attorney Pierce O’Donnell has been charged with laundering donations to Hahn’s campaign. Hahn has said that he had no knowledge of their alleged improprieties.
Claim: “A PR advisor indicted for over-billing the city.”
Analysis: John Stodder, an executive with public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard, has been indicted on fraud charges. The firm did hundreds of thousands of dollars of public relations work for Hahn under a contract with the Department of Water and Power.
Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg’s new ad
Claim: “That’s just wrong. Another Jim Hahn excuse. Like Jim Hahn saying a mayor can’t do anything to fix our schools.”
Analysis: Hahn has never said the mayor cannot do anything to help the schools, and he has presided over an expansion of LA’s Best, an after-school program. But the mayor has no direct authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is governed by an independently elected board. Hertzberg has said he will break up the school system, but he could not do that on his own. He would need a City Charter amendment or a statewide ballot measure that would alter the funding of education in California.
Claim: Hahn maintains “that we need a tax increase to hire more police.”
Analysis: Hahn has twice pushed plans to ask voters to approve an increase in sales taxes to pay for 1,200 more police officers. Last fall, he supported a countywide measure that failed. This year he backed a similar city measure.
After the City Council rejected that plan, the mayor proposed hiring 720 new officers in the next fiscal year, through unspecified budget saving and borrowing against future tax refunds.
Hertzberg has said he would hire 3,000 more officers by, in part, devoting 25% of new city revenues to expanding the force. Hertzberg’s campaign put the annual cost at $300 million, but he has declined to say what services he would cut to pay for the new hires.
Source: Times staff writers Matea Gold and Noam N. Levey
Los Angeles Times
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