IMAGE: Antonio Villaraigosa
Ric Francis  /  AP
Antonio Villaraigosa acknowledges cheering supporters Tuesday.
updated 5/18/2005 3:57:50 AM ET 2005-05-18T07:57:50

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, 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, Villaraigosa had 225,328 votes, or 59 percent, to 158,732 votes for Hahn, or 41 percent.

'Tonight I really love L.A.'
Striding to the podium at his victory party amid chants of “Si, se puede,” Spanish for “Yes, we can,” 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 Villaraigosa told supporters.

Villaraigosa will become the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles since 1872, back when the city was merely a dusty outpost of only about 5,000 residents on the edge of the Western frontier. Hahn, the scion of a prominent political family, becomes the first Los Angeles mayor in 32 years to be bounced from office.

Villaraigosa, 52, positioned himself as a unity candidate who would bridge racial and ethnic groups in a city that is 48 percent Hispanic, 31 percent white, 11 percent Asian and 10 percent black. The Democrat lined up marquee endorsements from John Kerry to basketball legend Magic Johnson.

The bruising runoff between the two Democrats was a rematch of the 2001 election, in which Hahn rallied to defeat Villaraigosa and win his first term. Villaraigosa came back strong this year, nearly ousting Hahn in the March primary.

Elsewhere, Pittsburgh held a primary for mayor with the city mired in worst financial crisis since the collapse of the steel industry during the 1980s. And voters in Dover, Pa., picked their candidates for the school board in a community that has been roiled by a new and apparently first-in-the-nation policy requiring that students learn about the “intelligent design” theory of creation.

Hahn's base of support crumbles
Hahn’s family has been active in Los Angeles politics for decades; his father, Kenneth, was a beloved county supervisor. He touted Los Angeles’ dropping crime and argued that he is the man to cure such urban ills such as failing schools and gridlock.

IMAGE: James Hahn
Chris Carlson  /  AP
Mayor James Hahn, left, talks to reporters at his election night party, before results were announced.
But the coalition of blacks and moderate-to-conservative San Fernando Valley voters that put him in office four years ago broke apart this time. He lost black support because he backed the ouster of Police Chief Bernard Parks, who is black, and he suffered fallout from allegations that his administration exchanged city contracts for campaign donations.

And Hahn’s lawyerly — some say drab — image left him open to criticism that he isn’t up to being the public face of star-studded L.A.

“People want substance rather than style. I think they want results rather than rhetoric,” Hahn, 54, said after voting early Tuesday. “You know, maybe I have a charisma deficit disorder, but I’ve done the job people have elected me to do.”

Hahn left his own party shortly before Villaraigosa declared victory Tuesday night. Before bidding his supporters goodnight, Hahn praised his administration and said he had accomplished much of what he set out to do.

Villaraigosa promised to bring a fresh start to the city.

“I will never forget where I came from. And I will always believe in the people of Los Angeles,” he said Tuesday night.

In other races Tuesday:

  • Former City Councilman Bob O’Connor beat a crowded field of Democrats in the Pittsburgh mayoral primary. 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 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.

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