Term limits and local elections transformed Los Angeles City Hall in 2001, while an energy crisis threatened California for months, only to be replaced by broader financial worries that promise to dominate Sacramento in early 2002.
In Los Angeles' 2001, the electorate spent much of the year replacing its leaders. All three citywide elected officials got their jobs in 2001, as did a majority of City Council members. Council President John Ferraro, 76, the longest-serving member of the group, died. Alex Padilla, 28, the youngest member of the chamber, took his place as City Council president. A Democratic mayor replaced a Republican one.
In Sacramento, the challenges were more governmental than political, as state officials spent the first half of the year trying to keep the lights on and the latter half trying to figure out how to pay for their earlier actions. Gov. Gray Davis' year was dominated by the energy crisis, and he now faces the task of patching together a budget even as he attempts to win reelection against the eventual victor of a fight among three Republican contenders: Secretary of State Bill Jones, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and businessman Bill Simon Jr.
Though governments across the state faced their own local quandaries, some issues transcended locale. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and hardening recession upended priorities throughout California along with the rest of the country. By December, public agencies across the state were wrestling with higher security costs even as they tried to adjust to declining revenues brought on by the sluggish economy.
The enormous effects of the looming budget crunch were barely imaginable 12 months ago.
When the Los Angeles mayoral race picked up speed last January, the top six candidates spent most of the time trying to distinguish their positions on topics such as left-hand-turn signals, neighborhood councils and shortened workweeks for police officers.
"We all have the same vision," businessman Steve Soboroff, the sole Republican in the race, joked at one congenial mayoral forum. "You dial 1-800-VISION, and you get the vision."
By summer, with the race narrowed to City Atty. James K. Hahn and former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, the candidates were increasingly defined in negative terms. Hahn challenged Villaraigosa's commitment to fighting crime, and aired a commercial that interspersed images of his opponent and a crack pipe; Villaraigosa angrily accused Hahn of cynical politics and smear tactics, and compared him to a notorious Los Angeles mayor of yore, Sam Yorty.
Hahn won with 54% of the vote, helped along by two bases of support not generally united: conservative whites and African Americans.
With Hahn's election, Los Angeles had a Democratic mayor for the first time in eight years. Rocky Delgadillo, a former aide to outgoing Mayor Riordan, was elected city attorney and became the first Latino citywide official of modern times. And Laura Chick became the first woman to hold such a seat with her victory in the city controller's race.
Completing the out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new turnover, seven new members joined the 15-person Los Angeles City Council during the year, with still another seat to be filled in March.
Today, more than half of the council is younger than 50, and a majority of its members have served less than a year.
Youth brought a new energy to City Hall, along with some gaffes.
In his first month, newly selected Council President Padilla reshuffled committee assignments, giving the plum jobs to those who backed his presidency and denying the requests of the five members who voted against him--three of whom happened to be the council's only African American members.
Padilla's attempt at power brokering backfired. The next week, hundreds of black community leaders packed City Council chambers to protest the decision. The new council president was forced to back off.
The far more seasoned Hahn eased into his new tasks more slowly. He expanded after-school programs and won approval for a compressed workweek for police officers, a much-debated campaign promise. He also pushed for development of the city's neighborhood council network, a promise of the 1999 charter reform effort that has been stymied by bureaucratic obstacles.
Hahn Draws the Line on Secession Threats
The coming year brings a broader political challenge to the mayor's office: the continuing press by some residents in the San Fernando Valley and other areas of the city to break away from Los Angeles.
Hahn has staked his authority on the defeat of those efforts, and in the closing months of 2001 began to wage his counter-campaign. Even as city officials were negotiating the terms of a proposed secession ballot measure that could be before voters as early as November 2002, Hahn formed a political action committee called L.A. United, enlisting some of the city's sharpest political strategists to wage a political campaign to stop the breakaway movement.