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GOP, Secessionists Got Shut Out

REFLECTIONS ON 2002: POLITICS

Davis led Democrats to a sweep of statewide elections. Hahn gave L.A. a new police chief.

December 25, 2002|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

The political events that defined 2002 in some cases were those that did not happen: Los Angeles did not split apart, Gov. Gray Davis did not lose reelection and the Democrats' stronghold on California did not falter.

Within the workings of government, there were important shifts: Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn dumped one police chief and picked another, William J. Bratton, a veteran of the New York and Boston police departments, who arrived in Los Angeles just in time to confront a string of alarming violent crimes. And in Sacramento, the Democratic leadership that voters chose in November was quickly faced with a budget deficit that threatened to scuttle plans and force major rollbacks.

If those developments altered the government agenda, however, the elections did little to shuffle the players who will address it.

"I think the election was remarkable for how little it changed things," said Bruce Cain, director of UC Berkeley's Institute for Governmental Studies. "There were no major propositions and no major transformations."

Unlike previous years, when measures to ban benefits for illegal immigrants and end affirmative action divided the electorate, voters in 2002 tackled less contentious notions. Statewide, they approved measures to expand after-school programs and repair run-down school buildings. In Santa Monica, they rejected a proposal to give workers in beachside businesses a raise, while in Los Angeles County, they overwhelmingly supported a parcel tax increase to pay for trauma centers.

Disaffected Electorate

Across California, more than half of the electorate stayed home, unhappy with its choices and disgusted by the negative politicking that dominated the governor's race.

"There was a disconnect between voters and politics, probably larger than we've seen in some time," said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.

When the year began, defining contests across the state appeared to be too close to call. Richard Riordan was touted as a threat to Davis, advocates of breaking up Los Angeles were on the move and observers of the Los Angeles Police Department wondered whether change at the top was in store.

At the Police Department, long at the center of local and even national political attention, the year opened with Police Chief Bernard C. Parks in pursuit of a second term, and many observers expected Hahn to give it to him.

But the expected didn't happen.

In February, Hahn startled and angered many of his African American allies when he announced his opposition to granting Parks another five years. The chief struggled to hold on to his job, but the Police Commission, whose members were nominated by Hahn, sided with the mayor and turned down Parks.

With an interim chief in place, the city launched a nationwide search for Parks' replacement. The final list came down to three candidates: Bratton, former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney and Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez.

Hahn chose Bratton, the brash former New York police commissioner, who immediately set to work reorganizing the Police Department.

Hahn's moves at the LAPD helped strengthen his standing with the public -- and at a time when that was politically significant.

At the beginning of the year, secession efforts in Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley appeared to have momentum. The campaigns qualified for the ballot after a state agency concluded that the communities could survive financially on their own (a third secession campaign, in the harbor area, was denied a place on the same ballot). Supporters in the Valley and Hollywood predicted that breakup was imminent.

Within weeks, however, the efforts began to lose steam, as Hahn began organizing against the breakaway movements. The mayor brought in former rivals -- including Riordan, Antonio Villaraigosa and labor leader Miguel Contreras -- to his L.A. United campaign, which soon pulled in hefty donations.

Secession Faltered

Secession proponents, on the other hand, failed to put together a competitive campaign. Internal disagreements and a lack of resources left their efforts sputtering, and the strategy of running the two secession efforts simultaneously did not appear to help either effort, particularly as overwhelming opposition to Hollywood secession emerged citywide and within Hollywood. In the end, secession won by a thin margin in the Valley, but lost solidly citywide -- killing the movements, at least for the time being, and handing Hahn a major victory.

" 'Courageous' and 'bold' are not terms you usually associate with Mayor Hahn, but by picking Chief Bratton and marshaling the forces against secession, he showed himself to be both," said Los Angeles campaign consultant Harvey Englander.

On the state front, the Bush administration's efforts to topple Davis by running a moderate Republican against him failed.

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