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Defining Tom Hayden

Over the Decades, the '60s Rabble-Rouser Has Stayed True to His Ideals. But It Hasn't Always Made Him an Effective Politician. As He Runs for City Council, Will He Be Able to Put Aside Burmese Repression to Focus on L.A.'s Potholes?

December 10, 2000|MONA GABLE | Mona Gable is a Los Angeles writer whose work appears in Salon magazine's anthology "Mothers Who Think" (Villard)

As a teen, Garity went through a rough period--drinking and fighting. "I was very angry," he says, "the separation of my parents, the hypocrisy I felt in school." Hayden flew home from Sacramento almost every night, offering acceptance and support. One Christmas, they stayed in the Brazilian rain forest, taking long boat rides down the Amazon at night. After Garity spent a night drinking, he woke to find a letter from his father. "He really opened his heart to me. And we've been copacetic ever since." Soon after that, Hayden quit drinking. "He was an alcoholic for many years," Garity says. "He put it down and never needed it again, and apologized for any attention it might have taken from our relationship."

When I try to broach this period with Hayden, his voice turns icy. "I don't generally talk about things that are personal and have no particular relevance to politics or public affairs," he says. "If that means I can't share with the readers how I've grown, I'm really sorry about that."


In Sacramento, Hayden typically eats dinner alone at a Spanish cafe, retreats to his room at an ersatz Victorian bed and breakfast to write and maybe gets in a visit to the gym. So I'm surprised one afternoon when he announces: "We're going to Sen. Jack O'Connell's house to watch the Laker game." Hayden, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, takes the wheel of his unkempt state car and hands me the directions. Rushing is in the back seat. Soon we're in suburban hell, a sea of dung-colored tract houses and cookie-cutter apartments and mini-malls. When Hayden finally pulls up to the address, the two-story home looks deserted. "It looks like a crack house," he quips.

Inside is no better. Except for a recliner, a couch, some ratty stuffed animals on the mantel, the place is bare. As for dinner, O'Connell offers this: Coke, diet Coke, mint chip ice cream, pretzels, chips. Surveying the scene, Hayden jokes, "It's a world of men without women."

For once he enjoys himself. "Look at Shaq!" he marvels, pointing to the TV, as the Laker MVP hammers in a dunk. During the game, Hayden lies on the carpet, doing sit-ups. But as soon as the final buzzer sounds, he leaps up and is ready to go. "I don't think you become close to people in Sacramento," he says later. "It's a mistake to think you're there to make friends."

Making enemies, on the other hand, has never been a problem. When he got to Sacramento, legislators who refused to forgive him for his antiwar activism or his marriage to "Hanoi Jane" tried to prevent him from taking his seat. "There was a time when no Republican would vote for any of his bills," says Sen. John Burton, a Democrat from San Francisco. Former state Sen. Quentin Kopp, now a Superior Court judge, blames the animosity on "fear of his purity of purpose and method."

Hayden's relations with Democrats haven't always been much sweeter. In 1991, then-Speaker Willie Brown and fellow Democrats eliminated his Assembly district during the redrawing of legislative lines. Furious, Hayden spent $600,000 of his divorce settlement from Fonda to run for state Senate, winning the primary by a scant 580 votes. Some Democrats still seethe over what they claim were Hayden's dirty tactics against Democratic incumbent Sen. Herschel Rosenthal. And many still blame Hayden for the Democrats' losing the governorship in 1994, when he jumped into the Democratic primary. Darry Sragow, candidate John Garamendi's campaign manager at the time, criticizes Hayden for entering a race he clearly couldn't win. "He destroyed any chance at all that John Garamendi could beat Kathleen Brown," he says.

Despite his passion and intellect, Hayden never did become a leader in the Legislature. "There is a certain camaraderie and give and take among legislators," says Sen. John Vasconcellos, a Democrat from Santa Clara. Successful lawmakers learn early to ease off on their personal agendas to accommodate a common purpose and effort, he says. "I didn't see signs he was willing to do that."

It's easy to find stories about how Hayden has ticked people off, even from those who like him. "He does weird things," says Kam Kuwata, campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Kuwata recalls how he bumped into Hayden at the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago. Several Chicago Seven defendants were there and, to mark the occasion, someone was filming Hayden wherever he went. When Kuwata asked that the video camera be turned off, Hayden refused. Kuwata snarled an expletive and stalked off.

Hayden's maverick streak wins him plenty of on-camera time and seems to attract admirers in Hollywood. But critics say it has undermined his effectiveness as a lawmaker.

One afternoon, he calls reporters to the Criminal Courts building in downtown Los Angeles to announce that he has succeeded in getting $100,000 to study California death penalty cases. Hayden has rallied actor Mike Farrell and a tanned and bubbly Martin Sheen. The cameras are there, but Gov. Gray Davis kills the budget item.

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