By Kevin Herrera
LOS ANGELES Pledging to be a mayor who represents all of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa handily defeated incumbent Jim Hahn Tuesday to become the first Latino mayor of the city since 1872.
In an election that had a striking resemblance to Tom Bradley’s historical 1973 campaign, in which he rebounded from damaging attacks of character to defeat the politically powerful Sam Yorty to become the city’s first African-American mayor, Villaraigosa avenged his 2001 loss to Hahn by reaching out to a broad cross section of the electorate, using his polished skills as a communicator and negotiator to form strong alliances with African-American civic leaders, liberal whites, the Jewish community and his loyal base of Latinos and labor unions.
Political analysts said the historic victory signals a shift in power, giving Latinos not only a greater role in local politics, but also an immense sense of pride and purpose.
African Americans received a boost as well, showing that their vote cannot be taken for granted, as many felt Hahn had. Blacks are expected to play a significant role in Villaraigosa’s administration.
In all, a more diverse City Hall should emerge, analysts said, which should mean good things for minorities who historically have felt marginalized.
“This is significant [because] it symbolically democratizes urban America by showing that a candidate of color, especially a Latino in Los Angeles, can win a citywide race in which members of his own ethnic group only represent 20 to 25 percent of the electorate,” said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Policy at Cal State Los Angeles.
“It shows what he or she can do when they have worked hard to cultivate coalitions and build relationships in all of the vibrant communities … But make no mistake about it, Villaraigosa will have his job cut out for him in trying to balance the many interests as best as he can. I think Villaraigosa will carry forward with his vision … and he will make appointments that look very much like the city in terms of gender, race and ethnic background and in terms of sexual preference, [and] also sectors of the business community, labor and environmental and the San Fernando Valley.”
It was Villaraigosa’s huge support among Latinos that turned his victory into a landslide, ushering Hahn out of office effective July 1 after a lone term. The city councilman sparked a surge in Latino turnout and won 84% of those voters.
For the first time in modern Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times Poll found, the Latino share of the city’s electorate reached 25% up from 22% in the Villaraigosa-Hahn contest four years ago, and up from a mere 10% in the 1993 mayoral race.
In the final tally, Villaraigosa captured 58.66 percent of the vote, leaving Hahn with only 41.34 percent. Turnout, as expected, was low, with only 30.55 percent of the city’s registered voters casting their ballots, the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office said Wednesday.
Mayor-elect Villaraigosa assumes office July 1.
At his election night celebration near downtown, Villar-aigosa invoked the memory of Bradley as well as his mother, Natalia, whom he said survived an abusive relationship with Villaraigosa’s father and went on to raise four children on her own. Villaraigosa, a city councilman and former speaker of the state Assembly, said he draws on her strength as well as Bradley’s commitment to unity; a major theme of his campaign.
“It doesn’t matter whether you grew up on the Eastside or the Westside, whether you’re from South Los Angeles or Sylmar,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you go to work in a fancy car or a bus, or whether you worship in a cathedral or a synagogue or a mosque. We are all Angelenos, and we all have a difference to make.”
In a race that pitted two men with similar political philosophies against one another, personality and voter discontent clearly played a significant role, according to an exit poll released by the Los Angeles Times, which found that the majority of voters, including Hahn’s own supporters, said the city needed a change in direction after four years of relative stagnation and corruption probes.