Kenneth P. Hahn, former L.A. County assessor who became an accidental LGBTQ trailblazer, dies at 78
Kenneth P. Hahn, a former Los Angeles County assessor and one of the county’s first openly gay elected officials, has died at his home in Cathedral City. He was 78.
Hahn was recovering from a serious stroke last month when his condition began to deteriorate, said Robert Kalonian, spokesman and assistant to the county’s current assessor, Jeffrey Prang.
He died peacefully Saturday with his husband, Louis Mangual, at his side, Kalonian said.
Hahn first worked inside the L.A. County assessor’s office as an appraiser, answering public complaints for 10 years before deciding to run against his boss, Assessor John J. Lynch, in 1990.
Though he had little political experience and reportedly jumped into the contest mostly to irritate his boss, Hahn overcame steep odds and won. He was reelected in 1994 and 1998.
Prang said he met Hahn in 1990 when he was 27 and just starting a career in local government.
He remembered Hahn as a “nice guy who wasn’t very political.”
“I remember him telling me he wasn’t running with any expectation of winning,” Prang said.
Eventually Hahn settled into his new job, where he used his calm demeanor and humor to oversee a staff of more than 1,500 employees to assess 2.5 million taxable properties.
One of those employees he hired in 1992 was Prang, who worked as a staff assistant. Prang said Hahn brought a sense of normalcy to the office.
“He was a very down-to-earth guy and was approachable and humble,” said Prang, who credits his career in government to Hahn.
“He gave me my foot in the door and stayed around to help me along the way.”
During his second year in office, Hahn became somewhat of an accidental trailblazer for the LGBTQ community at a time when few elected officials were openly gay.
Hahn, who had never denied that he was gay but had never made a public announcement about it, was outed in 1991 when organizers of the West Hollywood’s annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade told the crowd that Hahn was “the senior-most elected openly gay official in Los Angeles.”
Shortly after, Hahn, who was 51 at the time, told The Times that he wanted to “be treated like any other elected official.”
“My sexual orientation has nothing to do with my job… I’ve never been a gay candidate, just a candidate who happened to be gay.”
Because gay marriage was not legal in the early 1990s, Hahn and Mangual participated in West Hollywood’s public commitment ceremonies — celebrations that were much like weddings but without an actual marriage license.
Karen Ocamb, a freelance reporter and longtime friend of Hahn, attended the event.
“He was gazing lovingly into his partner’s eyes, totally unaware of me as I circled them, taking photos with my little camera,” Ocamb said. “Love just radiated around them.”
Hahn stepped down as assessor in 2000 and was replaced by Rick Auerbach.
Hahn later moved to Hawaii, where he lived for about three years growing rambutan — a tropical fruit that is similar to lychee — before moving to Seattle and eventually back to Los Angeles.
In 2013, when gay marriage became legal, Hahn married Mangual, his partner of more than 40 years.
Hahn, who is predeceased by his older brother Richard, is survived by Mangual; nephews Troy Han and Richard Hahn; and a niece, Debbie Hatcher.
Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.