Unsmiling Hahn is back at City Hall

Share via
Times Staff Writer

At least it wasn’t done in charcoaled shades of gray.

A solemn official portrait of a former Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn was unveiled Thursday at City Hall in a ceremony tinged with laughter, if not with color.

Hahn is depicted with folded arms and a somewhat aloof expression. He is pictured wearing a black suit, white shirt and pale blue tie, against a green backdrop.

The 3-foot oil-on-linen painting will hang in a portrait gallery on the 26th floor of the City Hall tower in the downtown Civic Center that is lined with images of 39 other Los Angeles mayors.


Hahn was the first incumbent mayor in 72 years to fail to win reelection when he was voted out of office in 2005. Current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa won by 17%.

At the time, Hahn was viewed by many as a bland, almost invisible leader whose administration was tainted by criminal probes and accusations that he fostered a “pay-to-play” atmosphere in City Hall.

Some in the crowd of about 450 who filled the City Council chambers Thursday night for Hahn’s return and for the portrait-unveiling ceremony were disappointed that a less stoic image wasn’t depicted.

His sister, Councilwoman Janice Hahn, said she had not gotten a sneak peek at the painting. But “this portrait will probably have a smile on it,” she predicted. “History will smile on this man.”

For his part, Hahn pronounced himself pleased with the results.

“I wanted to smile,” Hahn, 57, told the crowd, which included several other council members as well as Villaraigosa. “But they said, ‘No, this is an official portrait. It’s not for a political mailer.’ ”

Villaraigosa praised Hahn’s “very significant role in this city,” avoiding mention of the bruising 2005 election, except to describe the two of them as protagonists involved “in an act much bigger than ourselves.”


During that election campaign, Hahn suggested in TV ads that Villaraigosa once had attempted to win clemency for a convicted drug dealer and opposed a toughened anti-child-abuse law. Villaraigosa responded by accusing him of smear tactics, asserting that Hahn ran “the sleaziest campaigns in America.”

Hahn’s lone term as mayor was also difficult. He pictured himself as a gutsy leader who made “tough decisions” that benefited the city has a whole.

As mayor, he grappled with reforms in the Police Department by successfully pressing for the ouster of Police Chief Bernard C. Parks. Parks’ removal riled the black community, which in 2001 had rallied to support Hahn’s election.

Hahn also led the campaign to thwart secession movements in the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood in 2002. That angered breakaway-minded Valley voters who had supported him during his first mayoral run.

With his defeat, Hahn joined a small club of one-term L.A. mayors. Since 1900, only seven have served single terms.

It was uncertain where city workers would hang Hahn’s painting in the portrait gallery. There is an empty spot next to Tom Bradley, however. And that space is around the corner from John C. Porter, mayor between 1929 and 1933 who, prior to Hahn, was the last mayor to serve only one term.


Hahn’s supporters praised Los Feliz portrait artist Margaret Holland Sargent’s work. Her fee, listed at $22,500, was paid by the city.

“The painting suits his demeanor very well,” said Steve Keesal, a stockbroker who lives in the Pico-Robertson area.

Joe Burton, a lawyer and personal friend of Hahn, agreed. “I think it’s very ‘Jim.’ He has a nice countenance and a quasi-smile.”

Connie Wilson, a San Pedro flight attendant and 15-year family friend, said she was satisfied with “the faint smile.”

“He looks very content,” Wilson said.