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Mayor Rebuilds Black Support


Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has begun to regain the support among African Americans that he lost after he opposed a second term for former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, but overall approval of his job performance remains middling, a Los Angeles Times poll shows.

Fewer than half--46%--of the city residents surveyed said that the mayor is doing a good job; 26% disapprove of his performance and 28% say they don't know whether he's doing well.

The figures are similar to the ratings for former Mayor Richard Riordan during much of Riordan's first term. In Hahn's case, however, they come as he faces a major challenge--a battle to keep the city from breaking apart--in which a more solid level of political support would help, political analysts said.

Many black community leaders were angered by the mayor's decision to dump Parks, particularly because African Americans had overwhelmingly voted for Hahn in the June 2001 election.

But now support appears to be building, at least somewhat. After the Parks decision, Hahn lost support in that community: Just 30% of blacks surveyed by a Times poll in March said they approved of Hahn's handling of the city.

In the most recent poll, 39% of African Americans said they approved of the mayor's performance. Still, 42% said they disapproved.

The poll, supervised by Times Poll director Susan Pinkus, was conducted June 20 and June 29. It surveyed 1,790 people citywide, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Hahn, who made one of his first forays back into the African American community last week, said in an interview that he believes he will enjoy stronger support in that community again. What people thought about his decision on Parks will not affect their vote on secession efforts in the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood, Hahn predicted.

They are "one of the most politically sophisticated communities in the city," Hahn said. "They're used to people promising things and not delivering. They really know how to tell the difference and discern what's really going on.... I don't think they will buy the [secession] arguments."

Hahn also said he does not view his approval rating as negative. Rather, he said, he sees it as "2 to 1 positive to negative."

"Whenever you're making decisions, you're bound to make people unhappy," he said. "I make choices every day."

Riordan's support spiked six months after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, to 59%. Analysts attributed that upsurge to the quick repair of the Santa Monica Freeway and other recovery efforts.

Although the Times Poll also showed that secession would lose if it were voted on now, political analysts say the mayor's tepid approval ratings might not make him the best spokesman against a breakup of the city. Rather, they say, he needs to assemble a team of neighborhood, community and business leaders, as well as celebrities and other politicians, to send messages against breakaway efforts.

"I think the mayor's consultants need to realize that they're consultants against secession and not the mayor's consultants against secession," said Harvey Englander, a political consultant who is not involved in any of the secession campaigns.

"This is going to rest on his ability to rally other people and his ability to create a rationale for people to vote against secession based on their self-interest," Englander added.

The mayor, and his consultants, already are building a broad coalition of people to speak out against secession, and they say voters will not hear from him alone on the issue. "I think in some ways Jim serves as an organizer of all this to help people get together and empower them to speak out," said Bill Carrick, a political consultant who is managing the mayor's anti-secession campaign.

"That doesn't mean he's not a good messenger to make strong arguments about keeping the city together. He certainly has a platform and a place to do that," Carrick said.

Some Los Angeles residents who say they approve of the mayor's handling of the city also say they support secession. And regardless of their stand on the issue, more than 80% of poll respondents said Hahn's opposition to the breakaway efforts will not affect their votes.

Elen Orson is a Hollywood Hills resident who supports Hahn and secession. In fact, she suggested, he would be the perfect mayor to oversee the transition.

"I'm glad we have James Hahn at this time, because he seems to be a pretty flexible guy, and the transition to a smaller Los Angeles is going to take a lot of work," said Orson, who agreed to discuss the mayor in a follow-up interview. "I think it's a good time to do this [approve secession], when James Hahn is mayor."

Tien Nguyen, a Northridge resident, said he believes the mayor is heading in the right direction on most issues except secession.

"Smaller government is better government to me," Nguyen said. "I wish he would agree with it ... but if secession happens, he'll lose some of his authority."

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