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Kenneth Hahn's Legacy Serves His Son Well in Mayor's Race

Election: The city attorney is relying on wide support in the black community, where fond memories of his father give him a strong base.

April 03, 2001|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Julius Key is the kind of voter City Atty. James K. Hahn is counting on.

Key met Hahn's father when longtime County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn stopped in at his Normandie Avenue soul food restaurant in the 1960s, and he's never forgotten him.

"They don't come like him too often," said Key, 78, who voted for Kenneth Hahn for more than 30 years. "You couldn't ask for anyone nicer."

Jim Hahn is counting on those deep affections, built over a generation, to deliver him a place in the June runoff for mayor of Los Angeles, an office his father never attained but which has been long considered by the son. If Jim Hahn ends up there, it will be African Americans who helped make it possible.

In a new Times poll, 63% of African Americans said they expect to vote for Hahn. State Controller Kathleen Connell had the next-largest share of the black vote, with 12%, followed by former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa has the support of 7% of the African Americans and has been attempting to win a multiracial coalition of support.

The poll, which surveyed 769 likely voters, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

As the six top candidates try to secure their voting bases before the April 10 election, African Americans are the only ethnic or racial group that appears likely to vote as a bloc. In part, that is a tribute to Jim Hahn, but it also says volumes about the enduring admiration for his father.

"Blacks have had a love affair with his father, and now they have transferred a lot of that to the son," said Michael Preston, a USC political science professor who studies black politics. "It's something that runs deep in this city."

This election may be the first in many years that blacks--although a small piece of the overall electorate--could swing the vote for a candidate. While African Americans helped sweep Tom Bradley into office, Richard Riordan won without their support in 1993. In 1997, he won reelection even as 75% of African Americans voted for state Sen. Tom Hayden.

This time, however, the electorate is sliced thinly among the six major candidates. As a result, any group of common interests are highly desirable for a candidate.

Hahn, who grew up in South Los Angeles, has been quick to remind voters about his father, even putting his entire name--James Kenneth Hahn--on the ballot. Every Sunday for the last few months, he has attended several services at black churches.

On Monday, he courted African American voters in a daylong swing through South Los Angeles, accompanied by Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald. He met with workers at the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, visited with about 125 senior citizens and students over lunch in Watts, and received the endorsement of a group of Baptist ministers.

During a lunchtime program in an auditorium at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, elderly African American women swapped stories about the Hahn family. As Hahn walked through the room, one person after another reached to clasp his hands.

"I remember your father, and if there's anything I can do, just let me know," said Vivian Lang, a 53-year resident who said Kenneth Hahn helped turn a vacant lot by her home into a park. "What I know about Jim is that the acorn does not fall far from the tree. I believe that he believes in the same things his father did."

The groundswell of support for Hahn, especially in South Los Angeles, is so deeply rooted in his father's legacy that many voters acknowledged they don't know much about the son--and don't need to.

"If he's anything like his father, he's wonderful," said longtime resident Mordine Howard, who passed around a faded photograph of Kenneth Hahn posing with her 100-year-old aunt to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Social Security.

At another table, Hahn chatted with a group of students from an adult education school. After several minutes, one man recognized him.

"Hahn, right?" said Ronald Ward, 53. The city attorney nodded. "I'm so appreciative of your father and the work that he did. You've got one vote."

As he worked the room, Hahn repeatedly reminisced about his father, telling people how the elder Hahn use to tease him that the county streets were better paved than the city streets. But the father's shadow can be a long one, too.

"Obviously, it makes me feel proud of my dad to come here and see the love that he had," Hahn said. "But I also want people to know I stand for things and have my own record."

During a lengthy speech to the group, he cited his efforts to prosecute slum lords and fight for gun control. He told them he has sued the Bush administration on behalf of the city in an attempt to get the Department of Commerce to release information about those not counted in the 2000 census. And he said he was glad "to be home in Watts."

His comments drew a standing ovation.

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