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Mayoral Candidates Tangle at First Debate

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The first LA mayoral debate, hosted last night at the Museum of Tolerance, probably wasn’t on the radar of local voters. Many are still worn out from the long presidential campaign that ended just a month ago; others are simply wrapped up in the holidays.

KNBC forged ahead, though, sponsoring and airing the debate, which featured the station’s Colleen Williams as moderator. She was joined by panelists Jose Ronstadt of KWHY, which also aired the debate in Spanish, and Ron Kaye, Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Of the 20 candidates who have filed to run for mayor—many of them local activists unknown in the political arena—only the five with “significant support and organizations” were invited to participate. These included State Senator Richard Alarcón (who came despite suffering from pinkeye), incumbent Mayor James Hahn, former Speaker of the Assembly Bob Hertzberg, Councilmember Bernard Parks, and Councilmember Antonio Villaraigosa.

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All five are or have been elected officials, despite the tendencies of Parks and Hertzberg to tout their status as outsiders and non-politicians. Alarcón is a former Councilmember from the San Fernando Valley. Hahn, the son of legendary former County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, has been elected to every citywide office: Controller, City Attorney, and Mayor; he has never lost an election. Hertzberg served in the Assembly from 1996 to 2002 and was Speaker of the Assembly from 2000 to 2002. Parks, the former LAPD Chief who was essentially fired when Hahn refused to reappoint him in 2002, was elected to the City Council last year. Villaraigosa, a former Assemblymember and Speaker like Hertzberg, lost the mayor’s race to Hahn in 2001. He was elected to the City Council in 2003.

No love is lost between the challengers and Hahn. During opening remarks, Villaraigosa moved quickly to attack Hahn, saying that the city is “paralyzed by scandal.” Parks sniffed, “The folks with limousines already have a mayor; I’m campaigning for those who ride the bus.” All four challengers who were present brought up the allegations of pay to play that have swirled around the current administration; local and federal authorities have been investigating charges that contractors wanting city business were urged to give political contributions. Indeed, the second question, from Kaye, was directed at Hahn, asking what he will do to restore public trust if re-elected.