LOS ANGELES — His dad was known as the “pothole guy” – a gregarious pol who couldn’t pass up a chance to shake a hand, a man who also got things done for his constituents during 45 years in office.
James Hahn is a different style of public servant. Gray-haired and reserved, he seemed to step out of character when he went so far as to pump his fists to celebrate his election as mayor early Wednesday.
But even after two decades creating his own image in public office, Hahn is still known more for being son of the late Kenneth Hahn than he is for his work enacting gang injunctions as city attorney.
On the campaign trail, voters often called him “Kenny,” remembering a city councilman and county supervisor who brought services to minority neighborhoods and emergency callboxes to the freeways.
“My dad was known as the pothole guy, but let’s think about the vision that he had,” Hahn told reporters.
The son’s vision is pragmatic, like the father’s.
He campaigned on promises to beef up public safety, expand opportunities for children and help improve the city’s lackluster school system, though the mayor has little control over the schools.
Hahn’s core of support was inner-city blacks who remember his father, the white politician who was the only elected official to meet the plane that brought the Rev. Martin Luther King to Los Angeles in 1961.
Facing a charismatic Latino opponent in a city that’s increasingly Hispanic, Hahn added to his base by appealing to more conservative white voters with tough talk about crime.
Analysts credited that combination, and Hahn’s long tenure in city government, for his 8 percentage-point victory over fellow Democrat and former state Assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.
The vote recalled the alliance that dominated city government during the elder Hahn’s heyday, a coalition of African-Americans and liberal whites held together by longtime black Mayor Tom Bradley.
Joining the mayor-elect as inheritor of the Hahn dynasty is James’ sister, Janice, who won a city council seat on Tuesday.
Some in the Villaraigosa camp blamed their man’s loss on old-style political hardball. Hahn supporters ran a barrage of TV ads with images of a crack pipe, reminding voters that Villaraigosa wrote a letter of support for a drug dealer who won a pardon from President Clinton.
Hahn said the ad, like the rest of his aggressive campaign, could have been a page out of his father’s playbook.
“My dad was a tough campaigner. He had some tough fights,” Hahn said.
“I looked at some of his old campaign literature. My campaign would’ve been mild compared to that, so I’m sure he would’ve been proud of me, and my mom agrees.”