L A Mayor's Race = Texas Governor's Race

LA mayor's race indicates deeper divisions

06/10/2001

By Todd S. Purdum / New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES Walk the streets of Crenshaw, in the heart of black Los Angeles, and ask residents of a certain age why they joined moderate and conservative white voters in the suburban San Fernando Valley to elect James Hahn their next mayor, and the answers can sometimes be blunt.

"He was better than that other one," said Ruby Taylor, 67, a retired waitress, the other one being Antonio Villaraigosa, the former speaker of the California Assembly, who had hoped to become his city's first Hispanic mayor in more than a century.

"I've been watching what Spanish people been doing, making black people move out their houses," Ms. Taylor said, a reference to the changing ethnic makeup of some neighborhoods. "And I thought that if that cat got in, it would just go more that way."

Oscar Walker, 85, a retired parks and golf course worker, knew Mr. Hahn's father, Kenneth, a white man who represented the black neighborhood for 40 years as a Los Angeles County supervisor. Mr. Walker said he thought Kenneth Hahn "was a hell of a man," and transferred that loyalty to the younger Mr. Hahn, the city attorney and a veteran of 20 years in local politics.

But Mr. Walker also struggled to explain more complex reasons for his and his neighbors' votes: "This is more racist than what I could think, but everybody looks down on somebody, and the Mexicans being right next to the blacks, you'd see how that'd be. The Mexican population has gotten to a point where it takes a lot of precedence over the city, and that's how it goes. But that's more personal, and it sounds a little racist."

Mr. Hahn, 50, received 54 percent of the vote in Tuesday's runoff, Mr. Villaraigosa 46 percent.

As Angelenos sorted out the results of their hardest-fought local election in years, a contest between two Democrats who agreed on most issues, there was no denying that Mr. Hahn's appeal to the unlikely black-white coalition that gave him a decisive victory.

Mr. Villaraigosa, 48, built a powerful coalition of his own between the city's Hispanic east side and liberal non-Hispanic white voters on its wealthy west side.

Mr. Hahn won 80 percent of the black vote and 60 percent of the white vote, an unbeatable mix.

And, as in other cities from New York to Houston where black-Hispanic political coalitions have often been elusive, that has left more than a few raw feelings.

"Obviously, there's some possibility of resentment for the future between Latinos and blacks, since there really was such a split," said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization on Latino issues.

"Some Latino leaders are feeling that the reason that alliance was made possible was because blacks were resentful of Latino power," Mr. Pachon said, referring to the black-white coalition that supported Mr. Hahn.

In many ways, black political power has appeared to be waning here since Tom Bradley, the city's only black mayor, who was first elected in 1973, left office eight years ago. The Hispanic share of the city's population has swollen to almost 50 percent.

Mr. Villaraigosa inspired a record turnout by Latino voters, who made up about 22 percent of the people who voted Tuesday, more than twice the Latino percentage in 1993. And he won more than 80 percent of that vote.

But the vote was still only about half of the group's share of the adult population. By contrast, black and white residents voted at levels half again above their share of the adult population.

On the issues, blacks and Latinos largely agreed. Much of the campaign boiled down to arguments about character and experience. Mr. Villaraigosa's support of clemency for a drug dealer whose sentence was commuted by President Bill Clinton was an issue. But so were group pride and hopes of winning, and fear of losing, political power, interviews suggested.

"Just the fact that he came so close," said Mauricio Murillo, 31, a school psychologist in the heavily Hispanic Boyle Heights section, speaking proudly of Mr. Villaraigosa. "I think he did the most he could've done."

Mr. Hahn's chief strategist, Bill Carrick, said his campaign's research showed that black voters were well aware not only of Mr. Hahn's family legacy but also of his experience as city attorney.

The other Latino candidate for citywide office, Rocky Delgadillo, was elected to succeed Mr. Hahn as city attorney with the support of 60 percent of black voters.

Longtime City Council member Nate Holden, who is black and who backed Mr. Hahn, played down the suggestion of black-Latino tensions in the city.

"What white people don't understand about blacks," Mr. Holden said, "is that they are basically very conservative in many ways. They don't like to take chances; they don't like to make changes. They voted for the man they knew and thought would do the best job."

Robert Taylor, 25, who is black, and his friend, Danny Santos, 19, who is Latino, were awaiting a late breakfast at an International House of Pancakes in Crenshaw the other day when they reflected on the election. Mr. Taylor, a bodyguard whose family has known the Hahns for years and whom Mr. Hahn helped get some job interviews, voted for him. Mr. Santos chose Mr. Villaraigosa.

"I was just happy to see a Hispanic candidate up there, that now we are finally getting a chance and seeing our faces in politics," said Mr. Santos, who works in a surfboard factory in nearby Hermosa Beach. "But Hahn will be fine."

Mr. Taylor chimed in, referring to tensions between Lakers basketball stars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, to say: "That whole black-brown thing, that's hype. That's as bad as this Shaq and Kobe thing. For a few people? Maybe. But it's overblown."