On James K. Hahn's 42nd day as mayor, terrorists attacked the United States and propelled Los Angeles into its worst economic crisis since the Northridge earthquake. The aftershocks from Sept. 11 could turn out to be worse than a quake's, with anxiety over the threat of more to come hampering recovery. Hahn is being tested as surely as was former Mayor Richard Riordan, who had been in office all of six months when the 1994 quake struck.
Today's crisis demands as urgent a response.
It took Hahn a while to realize this. Four weeks after the attacks, he appointed a citizen task force to assess the local economic and psychological damage and prescribe remedies. The task force responded with record speed that reflected its key advice. "The message to the entire city," said task force chairman George Kieffer last week, " is: 'Pick up the pace."'
The task force proposes a modest plan: Coordinate the efforts of various public and private groups that offer relief for workers and businesses hurt by the downturn. Invest in--and market--the city.
None of this costs much, which is good because swooning sales, hotel and business taxes and soaring security costs have drained the city's reserves and left it facing a shortfall. The investment proposal, for example, calls on city officials to get off their bureaucratic duffs and start building capital projects that have already been approved and funded--the emergency operations and fire dispatch center, a police station in the San Fernando Valley, children's museums in Little Tokyo and at Hansen Dam. Doing so could provide as many as 11,000 new construction jobs in the short term and needed infrastructure and permanent jobs in the future.
Hahn embraced the recommendations, but only he--or his deputy for development, a key position he has yet to fill--has the clout to make sure they get done. After the Northridge quake, Riordan was everywhere, cracking the whip and cracking heads. He set the pace and the example; no one worked harder.
Hahn has quickly established himself as Shopper in Chief, promoting consumer confidence by leading expeditions to stores and restaurants in Hollywood and the Valley, boosting tourism and trade with a call on Mexico. He also adopted--a little too quickly--one of the task force's less thought-out recommendations to go ahead with the annual air show at Van Nuys Airport to "show the world Los Angeles is confident in the safety of its air transport system." No one had checked with airport officials, who say the main reason they canceled the show was because the Air National Guard units that supply planes and crew are off fighting the war on terrorism.
This city's residents have not forgotten the country is at war. More than reassurances, the public craves straightforward information and decisive action from leaders. Then confidence will take care of itself.