L.A. mayoral hopefuls argue about crime, policing

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 09, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Mayoral candidates James Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa met Tuesday in the first debate of their runoff campaign, arguing over who would be better at fighting crime and boosting morale in the understaffed Police Department. 

Hahn attacked Villaraigosa for his state Assembly vote against extending a law that Hahn’s city attorney’s office wrote enhancing felony convictions for gang members. 

Villaraigosa, who has urged prevention and intervention programs in fighting gang violence, responded that the gang problem has only gotten worse during Hahn’s 15 years as city attorney. 

“For you to say that it’s worse than ever, you need to go to some of these neighborhoods that I’ve cleaned up,” Hahn said, referring to anti-gang injunctions he’s imposed. 

“I was born and raised in those neighborhoods, my friend,” replied Villaraigosa, a native of the East Side. “I don’t have to go and visit them.” 

Villaraigosa also called Hahn’s support of a three-day workweek for police officers “irresponsible” and claimed it would jeopardize public safety by taking hundreds of officers off the streets. 

Hahn argued that the police force urgently needs help in retaining officers. 

“We’re facing a crisis. This department is hemorrhaging,” he said. 

The exchange underscored that crime and policing will be major issues in the weeks leading up to the June 5 election. Hahn’s campaign has sought to portray Villaraigosa as too liberal on crime, while Villaraigosa has accused Hahn of distorting his record. 

The hourlong debate on the University of Southern California campus, moderated by KCRW-FM public radio host Warren Olney and broadcast live, allowed the candidates to present detailed positions on issues including traffic, the energy crisis and economic investment. But they continued their sparring on crime outside the debate. 

Villaraigosa emerged to announce, “It’s clear that the major distinction between us is I want to keep cops on the streets of Los Angeles and Jim Hahn wants to take  

them off.” 

“I don’t believe in taking officers off the street. I believe in putting more officers on the street,” Hahn retorted a few minutes later. He said, though, that one reason crime has emerged as a key point of contention between the two Democrats is that “we agree on a lot of issues.” 

Hahn, 50, has been city attorney since 1985 and was city controller before that. He’s a moderate who grew up in South Central Los Angeles and draws on strong support from the black community in part because his father, Kenneth Hahn, represented that area on the county Board of Supervisors for four decades. 

Villaraigosa, 48, served in the state Assembly from 1994-2000, the last two years as speaker.  

A progressive, he has been praised for his ability to build coalitions and work with Republicans. If elected he would become the city’s first Latino mayor since 1872. 

Tuesday’s debate was the first since the crowded, hard-fought and costly primary election April 10. Villaraigosa emerged from the nonpartisan primary with 30 percent of the vote and Hahn with 25 percent, forcing a runoff because no candidate got more than 50 percent. 

Mayor Richard Riordan was prevented from running again by term limits.