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Mayoral Race Ends With One Last Push

Times Staff Writers

Rivals James K. Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa scoured Los Angeles from dawn to dark Monday in a final burst of campaigning before turning their race over to voters, who today pick a mayor to guide the nation’s second most populous city for the next four years.

Traveling from the seashore to the San Fernando Valley, the mayor and his challenger shook hands, walked precincts, traded barbs and stoked volunteers.

They raced through diners, subway stops, nursing homes and a jazz concert, appealing for last-minute support in English, Spanish, Japanese and broken Yiddish.

Whatever the language, the two contestants never wavered from the central themes of their hard-fought, acrimonious campaign.

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Hahn, the embattled incumbent, proclaimed public safety his top priority and, touting a drop in crime on his watch, vowed to create an even safer city. Calling himself “tough on crime,” the mayor told reporters at a Hollywood stop that Villaraigosa had “a terrible record” on the issue.

Villaraigosa, a two-year member of the City Council and former state Assembly speaker, portrayed himself as a vibrant leader who could energize the mayor’s office and rouse Los Angeles from a state of civic torpor. “This city and every community deserves someone with the energy and passion to get L.A. moving again,” Villaraigosa told cheering supporters in Pacoima.

On a day for which the forecast called for mostly sunny skies, polls open this morning at 7 and close tonight at 8.

Despite a flood of TV advertising and last-minute mailers -- and a small army of get-out-the-vote workers prepared to deploy at daybreak -- city election officials were expecting a turnout of no more than one in three registered voters.

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In addition to the mayoral contest, voters will settle a City Council race on the Westside of Los Angeles and cast ballots on two little-noticed propositions.

In the council race, Bill Rosendahl and Flora Gil Krisiloff are in a tight contest to replace the termed-out Cindy Miscikowski in the city’s 11th Council District.

One of the ballot measures would transfer authority over the 400-member police force that patrols the city’s four airports, including Los Angeles International, from the Airport Commission to the City Council.

The second measure would change a provision in the City Charter dealing with recall elections. Under the proposal, a voter could cast a ballot for a replacement candidate for city office without having to first vote yes or no on the recall.

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About 8% of the city’s 1.46 million registered voters have cast their ballots by mail.

As of Monday morning, the city clerk’s office had received nearly 119,000 ballots. The city mailed out almost 195,000.

Voters must return their ballots to a polling place or to the city clerk’s office no later than 8 tonight.

The pairing of Hahn and Villaraigosa reprises the matchup of four years ago, when Hahn was elected to his first term as mayor after 16 years as city attorney.

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Both men are flirting with history.

No incumbent has been ousted from City Hall in nearly a third of a century, and no mayor has been denied a second term since 1933, yet Hahn has been fighting from behind. He has lagged in fundraising and endorsements, plagued by allegations of ethical misconduct at City Hall and the fallout from two of his biggest decisions: helping oust former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, a popular African American, and fighting secession efforts in the San Fernando Valley.

For his part, Villaraigosa would make history if elected as the city’s first Latino mayor since 1872, a fact he has occasionally celebrated but mostly downplayed, fearful of a potential backlash in a city not always comfortable with its shifting demographics.

The candidates finished one-two -- with Villaraigosa ahead -- in March’s first round of voting, setting up today’s runoff.

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Hahn, who often seemed fatigued in recent weeks, was in high spirits Monday. Sporting an orangish tie and what looked like a fresh haircut, he began the day by greeting customers at a Denny’s restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

Surrounded by a mob of reporters and television camera crews on the sidewalk outside, Hahn brushed aside questions about his underdog status. “We know this race is very tight,” he said, later adding, “It’s kind of a comfortable role for me.”

Inside Denny’s, a buoyant Hahn made chitchat with breakfast patrons, not always productively. One family was from Bakersfield. Two men were from Las Vegas. Another pair was from Beverly Hills. “Well, root for me then and thank you for spending your money in the city,” the mayor said before moving on.

He offered no apologies for the pugnacious tone of his reelection bid, which has consisted entirely of negative TV spots since the second round of campaigning began 10 weeks ago. “He’s been running a negative campaign against me since Day One, if you haven’t noticed,” Hahn told reporters at one point.

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Traveling around town in a hybrid SUV, the mayor chugged from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley, through the outskirts of downtown and back again.

At Reikai’s Kitchen in Little Tokyo, Hahn met a few dozen retired women -- most of them Japanese -- with two deep bows from the waist, which were returned with polite applause.

The mayor impressed the group with a few arigatos and konichi-was (“thank yous” and “good afternoons”) but otherwise spoke through a translator. Hahn reminded the group that he listened to residents when they opposed putting a jail next to the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist temple. He noted that three of his seven deputy mayors were Asians or Pacific Islanders. He pointed out that his campaign consultant, Kam Kuwata, was a Japanese American. Hahn also touted his crime-fighting record once more and his success in helping house the homeless of nearby skid row.

He exhorted his audience to the polls with a visual cue. “Tomorrow I need your vote,” he said, and indicated his place on the ballot with two outstretched fingers. “Remember No. 2 -- that’s V for Victory -- that’s where the name Hahn is.”

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Villaraigosa careened into election day on a 24-hour “hands-on tour” that took the exuberant councilman the length and breadth of the far-flung city.

He began his tour at 7 a.m., greeting commuters on the North Hollywood Red Line station. Asked by reporters about Hahn’s criticisms a short time later, outside Art’s Deli in Studio City, Villaraigosa dismissed the mayor as “a desperate man.”

“He’s losing, everyone knows it, and he’s attacking me,” Villaraigosa said in Spanish to a group of reporters from Spanish-language media. “We’re going to talk to voters, instead of responding to his accusations.... We’re going to inspire the people to say more, to do more for Los Angeles.”

He later repeated much the same thing in English, speaking to reporters after receiving a free Chinese massage and bag of kettle corn on the Venice boardwalk. Asked about the possible significance of his election as the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles in 133 years, Villaraigosa said: “Since the beginning, I’ve said, yes, I’m going to be the first, but the responsibility of the first is to be mayor for everyone.”

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On a day that tested both candidates’ multicultural appeal, Villaraigosa may have done the most to try to ingratiate himself, even if it made for occasional linguistic dissonance.

During a morning stop at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda, he gamely worked the arts and crafts room with a multilingual message. “Yo hablo un poquito Yiddish,” Villaraigosa told a group of ladies.

“I hope that after Wednesday, people will say mazel tov to you,” said Lilian Martell, 88, wishing Villaraigosa congratulations.

“Hopefully Tuesday night,” Villaraigosa replied.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

How to vote

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. To find your polling place:

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* Call the city clerk at (888) 873-1000 or (213) 978-0444.

* Use the automated service at (800) 815-2666 or (562) 462-2750.

* On the Web: lavote.net/locator/

* For foreign language assistance, call (800) 994-8683.

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Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Steve Hymon, Jennifer Oldham, Patrick McGreevy and Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this report.


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