Nick Ut  /  AP
Angeles Mayor James Hahn, left, speaks during a news conference held to discuss the police shooting death of a 13-year-old black youth.
updated 2/21/2005 5:05:00 PM ET 2005-02-21T22:05:00

Outrage over allegations of police brutality is shaking up the wide-open contest for City Hall in which an influential, if relatively small, black vote could determine whether Mayor James Hahn wins a second term.

The death of 13-year-old Devin Brown, who was shot by police after driving a stolen car into a police car, galled black residents who saw the killing as the latest example of Police Department abuse.

And that Feb. 6 shooting came just three days after prosecutors declined to file charges against an officer who was videotaped hammering a black car-theft suspect with a flashlight — an image that evoked the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King.

As the March 8 election approaches, community unrest carries both risks and opportunities for Hahn, who was elected four years ago with overwhelming black support. His situation is further complicated by his decision in 2002 to push the ouster of police Chief Bernard Parks, now the only black candidate among Hahn’s four chief rivals.

Not enough has changed
If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote March 8, a likely outcome, the top two finishers will advance to a May 17 runoff. The race is non-partisan, and all five major candidates are Democrats.

Hahn is running on the city’s falling crime rate. But some community leaders say the Brown shooting is evidence that not enough has changed.

In the black community, there is a “feeling that it’s really not better,” said the Rev. Norman Johnson, a former executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. “Ultimately, this is a problem for the mayor.”

There are, of course, factors beyond race that will affect the election, including accusations that the Hahn administration traded contracts for political donations and issues from traffic to troubled schools.

But the Brown shooting has brought renewed focus on police-minority tensions, an issue that has troubled the city since the 1965 Watts riot.

Now that his re-election is far from certain, Hahn’s typically cautious demeanor has vanished. He demanded that the city’s police oversight board rewrite the policy for shooting at moving vehicles, publicly browbeat City Council members who blocked a proposal to hire more officers and denounced the decision not to charge the officer who clubbed Miller.

“He’s playing to his base and trying to turn a negative into a positive by ... demanding quick accountability and action,” said Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

No clear favorite
Hahn won election four years ago by knitting together a coalition of largely white, moderate-to-conservative voters in the San Fernando Valley and blacks in South Los Angeles — a bloc he inherited from his late father, a longtime county supervisor beloved in the black community.
This time, many of those black voters have defected to Parks, a Los Angeles Times poll found this month. Voters had no clear favorite, although Hahn was at the front of the pack with City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, whom he beat in the 2001 runoff.

The major mayoral candidates this year represent a rainbow of backgrounds not unlike the city itself — Hahn has Irish roots, Parks is black, former Assembly Speaker Hertzberg is Jewish and there are two Hispanic candidates, Villaraigosa and state Sen. Richard Alarcon.

Four years ago, Villaraigosa was regarded as the first Hispanic in years with a legitimate chance of winning the mayoralty. In the runoff, Hahn received 54 percent of the vote to his 46 percent. The city has not had a Hispanic mayor since 1872.

The black vote remains crucial for Hahn — and an important voting group overall — even though the city’s black population has been shrinking.

The 2000 Census pegged the black population at 11 percent in a city of 3.7 million, although blacks accounted for 17 percent of the turnout in the 2001 mayoral race, exit polls found. Hispanics make up nearly half the population but accounted for only 22 percent of the turnout four years ago.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments