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What Went Wrong?

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First of all, LAist apologizes for not getting our election story in–we were out at various election night parties to all hours and didn’t have time to write anything.

The obvious story to write about is the rematch: Hahn vs. Villaraigosa, Part II. But we’ll be able to talk about that for the next ten weeks. For now, the most interesting question for the City’s political insiders is where Hertzberg went wrong on his campaign, what could have happened or might have happened differently, and where he goes from here.

The top three finishers ended up as follows: Villaraigosa, 33.07%, 124,561 votes; Hahn 23.68%, 89,189 votes; Hertzberg 22.15%, 83,420 votes. So while Villaraigosa won handily, as most consultants expected, Hahn edged Hertzberg by a relatively tiny fraction of 6,000 votes. So what was to blame for Hertzberg’s failure?

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LAVoice has been hosting a discussion (see the comments) on “How Hertzberg failed.” We think many of their points are correct; see blogger AverageJoe’s comments in particular for an intelligent breakdown of the Council District results. To summarize, while Hertzberg led in his major targeted areas: CD-3 and CD-12 (the West Valley) and CD-5 (Encino and the eastern Westside, the most heavily Jewish area of the City), in other sections of the City he got almost no support whatsoever. Blogger Jzasloff retorts that Hertzberg intended to get half the Valley and half the Westside, and not focus on the rest of the City, and places the blame on Hertzberg’s Get Out The Vote efforts, which, if stronger, might have provided the difference.

At the same time, this is all very technical and parochial, for lack of a better word. We tend to think Hertzberg had the correct formula, generally speaking, but on a more systemic level, he had two major problems from the very start:

1. Fundraising and staffing: Hertzberg came in with a massive fundraising deficit to the Mayor, and needed to do more with his money from the very start. While Mayor Hahn had the luxuries of City staff (and it's naive to think the City staff wasn't "volunteering on their own time" at every turn) and the sheer manpower of almost every union in town, Hertzberg had to spend on staff from the very beginning, plus had to spend on ads just to increase his name recognition. Meanwhile Hahn could spend on negative ads or mailers or other things, because as an incumbent with a famous name, he didn't have that obstacle. Perhaps more judicious spending or active fundraising could have helped Hertzberg-his expenditures were consistently higher on staff and other expenses throughout the campaign.

2. Post-November problems: We tend to think that the Hertzberg brain trust underestimated the disenchantment with Republicans that liberals felt after November and Kerry's loss to Bush, and the waning popularity, especially among Democrats, of the Governator. We has run into many, many people who have told us, "I would have loved to vote for Hertzberg, but I just didn't like how he was pandering to Republicans," or, "I think breaking up LAUSD is a terrible idea and I can't vote for him." We believe that Hertzberg thought that he could pick up the Westside and the Valley by "running to the right," and that just being Jewish, or having been a former Assembly Speaker would be enough to carry the Westside. But there wasn't enough there to appeal to Westside voters. Why should they vote for this guy who seems to be almost a Republican himself instead of the well-known and well-liked Antonio Villaraigosa? Hertzberg didn't give Westside liberals any good reasons. Now, could he have done nearly as well as he did without making breakup his #1 issue? Probably not, but it's a catch-22.

So where does Hertzberg go from here? Does he endorse? We don't see him endorsing anyone. After bashing Hahn ferociously for months, endorsing him would look incredibly hypocritical and crass; it would be an endorsement for pure political gain (or due to personal hatred) that anyone could see through. As for Villaraigosa, their politics match, and their Westside bases overlap. Why wouldn't Hertzberg endorse Villaraigosa?

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Two reasons: first, they hate each other. Really, really hate each other. This goes back to their Assembly days and is based on the speakership succession and some Democratic Party cash that Villaraigosa raided against his word, but this is all water under the bridge. Suffice it to say that there's no love. Second, Hertzberg knows very well that Villaraigosa entered the race partly to prevent him (i.e. Bob) from becoming Mayor. He knew that with Parks in the race, Hertzberg would take the Valley and Westside enough to absolutely destroy Hahn in an election, perhaps even beating him in the Primary. Villaraigosa realized that Hertzberg would have won and stayed for eight years, further delaying his ambitions for higher office-so he bit the bullet, broke his promise to CD-14 to serve two terms on the council, and jumped in. To his credit, he ran a strong campaign and it looks like the gamble paid off. But don't expect Hertzberg to forget the fact that Villaraigosa cost him the Mayoralty.

In the end, we expect Hertzberg simply to go back to his law practice, at least for the next few years. As for Hahn vs. Villaraigosa, there will be plenty more to say over the next couple months.