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The Mayor's "Race"

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We hope you enjoyed your Cesar Chavez festivities last week, because the timing of the holiday is quite appropriate when it comes to much of the discussion on the Mayor’s race. Chavez’s empowerment of Latinos (what else is “si, se puede”?) awakened both Latino political consciousness and served notice to the mainstream that Latinos were a force to be reckoned with. He became symbolic of the Latino struggle for fairness and acceptance.

In a similar vein, much has been made of Antonio Villaraigosa and his quest to become the first Latino Mayor, and how, reminiscent of his 2001 run, he embodies forces of progressivism that our current Mayor does not. The pro-Villaraigosa, anti-Hahn screeching of LA Weekly comes to mind; in a recent article Harold Meyerson called Villaraigosa a “warrior for labor” and describing his commitment to labor and “LA’s underpaid working class”, even calling it “the cause that animates his being”. Or that Villaraigosa’s being Latino will signal a new age for Latinos in Angeleno politics. It’s our opinion that these opinions are rather misguided in the wider context of LA politics, and that both Villaraigosa’s ethnicity and his progressivism are overrated qualities. This isn’t intended to be a knock on Villaraigosa so much as a caution against pretending that there exists a champion of the working class or minorities in this race.

All of you are by now familiar with the Hahn history and strategy-get the Valley, get the white votes, get the people who will never vote for the brown-skinned candidate, and try to get everyone else to stay home through negative campaigning. It's tried and true. And while nobody's really saying that Hahn is the same as old Mayor Sam Yorty, who came right out and told voters not to vote for Tom Bradley in 1969 because he was black, leading to a Yorty victory, the implication is definitely there. Even the Times has compared Villaraigosa's rematch against Hahn to Bradley's subsequent ouster of Yorty in 1973.

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But Villaraigosa isn't the progressive candidate of change that Bradley was in 1969 and 1973. As the Times notes, there were light-years of political differences between Yorty, a staunch Valley Republican, and Bradley, a dyed-in-the-wool anti-development Democrat whose attitudes toward growth preface the CD-5 and CD-11 NIMBYs of today. Meanwhile, the differences between Hahn and Villaraigosa today seem more stylistic than substantial. If you go with Hahn, you choose steadfast mediocrity, trust in City bureaucracy, and poor oversight of mayoral staff: the pay-to-play scandal is a direct result of this latter characteristic. (Most people we've talked to agree that Hahn himself isn't corrupt, but that he failed to see it in his subordinates.) If you select Villaraigosa, prepare yourself for more civic engagement and excitement, but a much stronger sense of self-promotion and political decision-making at the same time, not to mention an exceedingly polarizing attitude towards his constituents: you need only look at the Mayor Sam weblog to see how every thread becomes an "Antonio" debate. But in the end, they're both fairly liberal Democrats.

As for Villaraigosa's being Latino, what nobody seems to be saying is that Latinos already have huge political power in LA already. Out of the fifteen council districts, five have Latino members: CD-1 (Ed Reyes), CD-6 (Tony Cardenas), CD-7 (Alex Padilla), CD-13 (Eric Garcetti-OK, he's only half) and CD-14 (Villaraigosa). A full third of the Council! Frankly, it's a credit to our City government that there isn't more ethnic polarization. Sure, you hear from time to time some complaining from Reyes or (Martin) Ludlow that things are different in their districts than in more affluent parts of the City. They have a point-but the key is that differences are spelled in socioeconomic, rather than racial terms. That's a frame of reference that can only serve to benefit the City in the long run, and if Villaraigosa is elected, how will it somehow get better?

It's time for Villaraigosa supporters to wake up and realize that their candidate isn't going to do more for the unions, or do more for progressive causes, or more for minorities, than Hahn will. This is already an extremely Democratic town and is going to stay that way no matter who wins. This is already a diverse town whose government recognizes its diversity, both ethnically and socio-economically, and its government will continue to recognize that and work within those parameters, no matter who wins. Unions, developers, and a small group of insiders will continue to run the City, no matter who wins. And most Angelenos still won't give a damn, no matter who wins.