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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Latino Defeats Incumbent in L.A. Mayor's Race - New York Times

Latino Defeats Incumbent in L.A. Mayor's Race - New York TimesMay 18, 2005
Latino Defeats Incumbent in L.A. Mayor's Race

LOS ANGELES, May 18 - Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa unseated Mayor James Hahn on Tuesday to become the city's first Hispanic mayor in more than a century, confirming the rising political power of Latinos in the nation's second-largest city.

After a lackluster term tainted by corruption allegations at City Hall, Mr. Hahn was turned out of office in favor of a high school dropout and son of the barrio who turned his life around to become speaker of the California Assembly and then a member of the Los Angeles City Council.

With 82 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Villaraigosa had 225,328 votes, or 59 percent, to 158,732 votes for Mr.Hahn, or 41 percent.

Striding to the podium at his victory party amid chants of "Si, se puede," Spanish for "Yes, we can," Mr. Villaraigosa thanked his family and the people who had inspired him over the years, and promised to "bring this great city together."

"You all know I love L.A., but tonight I really love L.A.," an exuberant Mr. Villaraigosa told supporters.

The two candidates were a study in contrasts. Mr. Hahn, the son of one of the region’s most popular politicians, Kenneth J. Hahn, who served 40 years as a county supervisor, was buttoned-down to the point of drabness. He acknowledged a case of "charisma deficit disorder," but said he was interested in getting things done, not touting his accomplishments.

Mr. Villaraigosa, who is as outgoing as Mr. Hahn is shy, was raised on the Latino east side by a single immigrant mother. He dropped out of high school for a time, then worked his way through the University of California, Los Angeles, and became a union organizer and then speaker of the state Assembly. He has been a member of the Los Angeles City Council since 2003.

The contest was a rematch of the 2001 mayoral race, which Mr. Hahn won by seven points after trailing Mr. Villaraigosa for much of the campaign. That race featured a number of late attacks by Mr. Hahn, who repeatedly attacked Mr. Villaraigosa for a letter he had written seeking clemency for a convicted cocaine trafficker.

Mr. Hahn’s campaign was similarly negative this time, even using the same slogan, "Los Angeles can’t trust Antonio Villaraigosa." Mr. Hahn accused his opponent, a former president of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, of being soft on crime. He also noted that Mr. Villaraigosa had accepted thousands of dollars in campaign donations from out-of-state businessmen bidding on city contracts.

Mr. Villaraigosa, who outpolled Mr. Hahn in the primary election by 33 percent to 24 percent, generally ran an upbeat, front-runner’s campaign. Although some of his advertisements noted the federal investigation of possible corruption in city contracting under Mayor Hahn, Mr. Villaraigosa mainly stressed what he called his ability to bring Los Angeles’s varied geographic, ethnic and racial communities together.

In this he was aided by Mr. Hahn’s two most significant actions as mayor. In 2002, Mr. Hahn engineered the ouster of Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, an African-American, which alienated many black voters who had supported Mr. Hahn in 2001. Mr. Hahn also campaigned vigorously to defeat an effort by residents of the San Fernando valley to secede from the city of Los Angeles, angering a part of the city that had provided a major share of his margin of victory over Mr. Villaraigosa four years ago.

Mr. Villaraigosa will be the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles since 1872, but he won the office on more than the votes of the city’s Latinos, who make up nearly half of the city’s population but barely a quarter of the electorate.

"If you look at Antonio, he would be a credible candidate from any ethnic group," said Harry Pachon, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California, which studies trends in Latino politics. "He has a liberal background, he’s an ex-president of the A.C.L.U. for Southern California, he has union credentials, he was speaker of Assembly. He’s punched his ticket in so many places."

Dr. Pachon said that Mr. Villaraigosa was also able to split the African-American vote, which had been solidly in Mr. Hahn’s column in 2001. It was the first time a Los Angeles mayoral candidate had successfully melded a Latino-black coalition to win office, he said.

"I will never forget where I came from. And I will always believe in the people of Los Angeles," Mr. Villaraigosa said Tuesday night.

In other races Tuesday:
-- Former City Councilman Bob O'Connor beat a crowded field of Democrats in the Pittsburgh mayoral primary. Mr. O'Connor will be heavily favored to win in November because Pittsburgh is predominantly Democratic. Mayor Tom Murphy is not seeking a fourth term.

-- In Dover, Pa., a party-line split emerged in a school board primary that has made national headlines because of the board's October decision to require that ninth-grade students be told about "intelligent design" when they learn about evolution in biology class. Republicans picked seven incumbent school board members who support the policy, while Democrats favored a slate of seven challengers who say intelligent design doesn't belong in science class. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex, it must have been created by some kind of guiding force.

-- Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, once called "America's Deadliest D.A." for her pursuit of the death penalty, took a big step toward winning a full fourth term by cruising to victory in the Democratic primary. The 64-year-old prosecutor defeated a 38-year-old lawyer who accused Ms. Abraham of being soft on City Hall corruption.

-- In Erie, Pa., Mayor Rick Filippi, who is under indictment on charges of using insider information to try to profit from real estate deals, lost his re-election bid in the Democratic primary. The primary came a day before he faced a preliminary hearing in the corruption case.

The Times's John M. Broder contributed reporting for this article from Los Angeles.


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