Villaraigosa Leads Mayor’s Race

Times Staff Writers

Antonio Villaraigosa was leading early today in the Los Angeles mayoral election as uncertainty loomed over whether incumbent James K. Hahn would capture the second spot in a May runoff. Hahn and Bob Hertzberg were fighting to advance to the next round.

Two other top contenders, Bernard C. Parks and state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley), were running further back. Shortly before midnight, Alarcon conceded defeat in a speech to supporters at an Encino restaurant.

After a campaign that failed to generate much excitement among voters, the result was a cliffhanger that pushed the suspense into the early hours this morning.


Election returns were delayed because dense fog grounded the two helicopters set to fly ballots downtown from San Pedro and the far corners of the San Fernando Valley. City officials scrambled to get the ballots trucked in. The count was further slowed as officials inspected ballots by hand before the machine tally.

For the second time in four years, Villaraigosa had a strong chance to reach his goal of becoming the city’s first Latino mayor since the 19th century.

“Some have said that there’s not the spark in this campaign,” Villaraigosa told exultant supporters celebrating at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood. “Some have said that there’s not the same kind of excitement around this agenda. But make no mistake about it. L.A. is ready and we’re ready.... We’re ready to not just do the small things.”

Hahn, who defeated Villaraigosa in a bitter 2001 contest, was struggling, meantime, to avoid becoming the first incumbent ousted from City Hall since 1973 -- and the first in 72 years to lose office after a single term.

“I wanted to come out here and thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Hahn told backers gathered at the Conga Room, a Miracle Mile nightclub. “Thank you again for everything. It looks great, everybody.”

Accompanied by his mother, Ramona Hahn, the mayor sang along to “I Love L.A.” and then acknowledged he was in for a long night.

“Obviously, we’re going to be here for a while,” he said before leaving the stage.

By the time Hahn finished speaking, later returns showed him having slipped into second place, but he brushed by reporters and ignored questions.

Hertzberg, rallying supporters at the AirTel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, also alluded to the drawn-out count. “It’s going to be a long night,” he said. “I’m told the fog in the Valley stopped the helicopters from flying in some of the votes.”

Parks used his late-night appearance at the Millennium Biltmore hotel downtown to take a shot at Hahn, saying the mayor’s shortcomings led him to seek the city’s top job.

“We thought there was a vacuum in leadership,” Parks told supporters. “The city was floundering.”

Although the final results remained unclear, a Los Angeles Times exit poll found that Villaraigosa had succeeded in expanding the electoral base he built in the 2001 mayoral contest.

A city councilman and former Assembly speaker, Villaraigosa gained support among whites, Jews, blacks and Valley voters, while carrying the Latino vote by an overwhelming margin, as he did four years ago. His support grew across the length and breadth of the city. He carried the Westside and Central City by large margins and ran nearly even with Hertzberg in the Valley -- and with Parks in South L.A.

By contrast, the Times survey of 2,789 voters found signs of trouble for Hahn.

The poll showed that the criminal investigation of alleged corruption in his administration took a substantial toll. Nearly half of voters surveyed as they left the polls said the allegations had played a role in their choice; of those, a solid majority voted for someone other than Hahn.

The poll also found a collapse in Hahn’s support among African Americans, his most loyal voting bloc in 2001. Most black voters opted for Parks, an African American councilman whose ouster as police chief in 2002 many saw as betrayal by Hahn.

Still, the mayor was in the fight to make the May 17 runoff, setting up a potential rematch with Villaraigosa.The election Tuesday set the stage for a 10-week campaign between the top two vote-getters. To win without a runoff, a candidate needs to capture more than 50% of the ballots, and none of the contenders appeared close to reaching that threshold.

The election capped months of hard-edged campaigning by the five top contenders. For much of that time, the mayor’s four challengers seemed focused on tearing down the incumbent.

Facing polls showing him statistically tied for the lead with Hertzberg and Villaraigosa, Hahn went on the attack last week in his television advertising, running a scathing spot denouncing them as “Sacramento politicians” beholden to campaign donors.

Hahn picked up that theme again Tuesday even as voters were casting their ballots, signaling that he would use it in a runoff.

“If one of those two guys is in the runoff, I think we will have a chance to really show the difference in leadership styles, that I was there fighting for Los Angeles while they were busy doing things that caused problems for Los Angeles,” he told reporters.

For Hahn, the campaign raised an array of obstacles, starting with his sharp loss of support among many African American and San Fernando Valley voters -- key blocs in his 2001 victory.

Hahn inherited the loyalty of many black voters from his late father, longtime county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who represented South L.A. for decades. But many felt deeply betrayed by the mayor’s move the following year to oust Parks as police chief.

In the Valley, where Hahn finished well ahead of Villaraigosa in the runoff, the mayor’s battle against secession alienated many voters, who had overwhelmingly supported him in the 2001 runoff.

In this campaign, Hahn tried to turn his twin liabilities into assets. In one TV ad, he looked straight into the camera and told viewers his “tough decisions” were not politically popular but were “the right choices” for L.A.

Yet polls found that Hahn’s attempts at political recovery had minimal success. Parks consistently ran ahead of him among black voters, and both Hertzberg and Villaraigosa outpaced Hahn in the Valley.

In the end, Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg said, Hahn’s effort to defeat Valley secession in 2002 has endured as a source of political grief. “No one in the Valley was happy with him,” Steinberg said, “and no one else in the city gave him Brownie points and said, ‘Isn’t it great he held the city together?’ ”

Hahn was further weakened by the criminal investigation into alleged City Hall corruption.

The mayor has denied any misconduct, and no one in his administration has been charged with a crime. But three top officials resigned, a grand jury subpoenaed Hahn’s personal e-mails, and a public-relations consultant to the city was indicted.

As Hahn’s political troubles deepened, an unusually strong field of challengers emerged to exploit his vulnerabilities -- and every one of them attacked his ethics.

Responding to the Hahn attack ad, Villaraigosa ran a spot in the campaign’s final days featuring grainy images of the mayor speaking in slow motion and flashing headlines on the corruption probe.

“It’s kind of been like a four-against-one thing from Day One,” Hahn said Tuesday.

Two of Hahn’s rivals -- Villaraigosa and Hertzberg -- entered the race with an important edge: expertise in raising huge sums of campaign cash. As Assembly speaker, each was in charge of collecting millions of dollars to strengthen the Democrats’ lock on the lower house of the Legislature.

Villaraigosa began with another advantage over a newcomer: a name familiar to voters citywide from his 2001 mayoral run.

Also, the scrutiny that he endured in that race -- including an exhaustive airing by Hahn of Villaraigosa’s attempt to win early prison release for a convicted drug trafficker -- gave Villaraigosa a thorough public vetting that helped him stay focused on his own agenda.

“People see my face on TV and in the newspaper, and I think this time around there’s just more familiarity and greater support,” Villaraigosa said Tuesday.

But the pillars of his 2001 campaign -- organized labor and the Democratic Party -- opted not to back Villaraigosa this year. Most of the city’s union leaders have shunned the former labor organizer in favor of Hahn, who marshaled the powers of incumbency to win their support. The party endorsed no one.

Hertzberg, a Sherman Oaks lawyer, started as an unknown to most Los Angeles voters, despite his six years in the Assembly.

In Sacramento, he was widely seen as a pro-business moderate when he led the Democrats’ heavily liberal caucus. In the mayor’s race, he positioned himself as the most Republican-leaning candidate.

To that end, he played up his friendship and political alliance with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Hertzberg also kept tightly focused on a campaign agenda designed to appeal to Republicans, such as his vow to break apart the Los Angeles Unified School District and hire 3,000 police officers without raising taxes.

In the campaign’s final stretch, Schwarzenegger appeared with Hertzberg to support the candidate’s school district breakup proposal. And former Mayor Richard Riordan, the governor’s education secretary, campaigned frequently with Hertzberg, including a joint appearance Tuesday at a Westwood deli and a Century City mall.

Part of Hertzberg’s campaign strategy was to replicate much of the coalition that elected Riordan mayor in 1993, with appeals to Valley, Jewish, Republican, conservative and moderate white voters.

Hertzberg also distinguished himself with eye-catching television ads that showed him as a giant towering over the city as he recited highlights of his campaign platform and called for a mayor “who thinks big for a change,” a backhanded slap at Hahn’s low-key personality.

Parks, a freshman city councilman, consolidated a strong base of African Americans in South Los Angeles, in effect stalling Hahn’s drive to regain support among black voters.

The former top cop’s candidacy led to speculation that his real goal was not the mayoralty, but revenge for Hahn’s effort to boot him from the chief’s job, which he reached after 38 years in the Los Angeles Police Department.

Parks denied vindictive motives, but also struggled to build a viable campaign operation. A string of professional advisors quit, some of them bridling at the dominant role his wife, Bobbie, played in his campaign organization.

Parks also had trouble raising money, which blunted his ability to broaden his appeal. Still, he assiduously courted Republicans and conservatives, many of them in the Valley, by stressing his law-and-order background and pro-business leanings on the council.

Alarcon, the first of the major candidates to announce he would challenge the mayor, framed his campaign largely as a bid to curb the influence of developers and big campaign donors at City Hall. He was hampered, however, by a shortage of money.

Times staff writers Jessica Garrison, Jeffrey L. Rabin, Sharon Bernstein, Richard Fausset, Patrick McGreevy and Daniel Hernandez contributed to this report.



What voters liked about their candidates

Asked of all voters:

Q. How much of a role did the candidates’ honesty and integrity play in your choice for mayor today?

A big role: 58%

Somewhat of a role: 32%

Not too much of a role: 6%

No role at all: 4%


Q. Do you think things in the city of Los Angeles are generally:

Going in the right direction: 46%

Seriously off on the wrong track: 54%


Q. When it comes to crime, do you think over the last four years the city has:

Gotten safer: 29%

Gotten less safe: 22%

Stayed about the same: 49%


Supporters cite a range of reasons for selecting their candidates:

Richard Alarcon

Q. What do you like most about your mayoral candidate?*

Has honesty and integrity: 32%

Thinks like me on the issues: 28%

Q. Which issues were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for mayor?*

Jobs/the economy: 36%

Education: 34%

Q. When did you make up your mind about who to vote for mayor?

Monday/Tuesday: 26%

Over the weekend: 14%

Earlier: 60%


James K. Hahn

Q. What do you like most about your mayoral candidate?*

Has experience to be mayor: 69%

Has honesty and integrity: 15%

Q. Which issues were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for mayor?*

Crime/gangs: 32%

Jobs/the economy: 32%

Q. When did you make up your mind about who to vote for mayor?

Monday/Tuesday: 22%

Over the weekend: 8%

Earlier: 70%


Bob Hertzberg

Q. What do you like most about your mayoral candidate?*

Thinks like me on the issues: 36%

Has a clear vision for the future: 27%

Q. Which issues were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for mayor?*

Education: 36%

Growth/traffic issues: 36%

Q. When did you make up your mind about who to vote for mayor?

Monday/Tuesday: 18%

Over the weekend: 8%

Earlier: 74%


Bernard C.Parks

Q. What do you like most about your mayoral candidate?*

Has honesty and integrity: 44%

Has experience to be mayor: 19%

Q. Which issues were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for mayor?*

Crime/gangs: 41%

Jobs/the economy: 27%

Q. When did you make up your mind about who to vote for mayor?

Monday/Tuesday: 19%

Over the weekend: 5%

Earlier: 76%


Antonio R. Villaraigosa

Q. What do you like most about your mayoral candidate?*

Thinks like me on the issues: 26%

Can bring people together: 25%

Q. Which issues were most important to you in deciding how you would vote for mayor?*

Education: 44%

Jobs/the economy: 31%

Q. When did you make up your mind about who to vote for mayor?

Monday/Tuesday: 17%

Over the weekend: 7%

Earlier: 76%

* Top two mentions in multiple-response question


Asked of all voters:

Q. What is your impression of:

Richard Alarcon

Favorable: 63%

Unfavorable: 37%

James K. Hahn

Favorable: 46%

Unfavorable: 54%

Bob Hertzberg

Favorable 57%

Unfavorable 43%

Bernard C. Parks

Favorable 59%

Unfavorable 41%

Antonio R. Villaraigosa

Favorable 74%

Unfavorable 26%


How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times Poll interviewed 2,789 voters as they left 50 polling places throughout Los Angeles during voting hours. Precincts were chosen based on the pattern of turnout in past citywide elections. The survey was a self-administered, confidential questionnaire. The margin of sampling error for percentages based on the entire sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points; for some subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Because the survey does not include absentee voters or those who declined to participate when approached, demographic estimates by the interviewer and actual returns, including absentee votes, were used to adjust the sample slightly. Questionnaires were available to voters in English and Spanish. Interviews at the precinct level were conducted by Davis Research of Calabasas. Raphael J. Sonenshein, political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, was a political consultant to the Times Poll.

Notes: Numbers based on preliminary results. Numbers may not total 100% where all responses are not shown.