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Hahn Woos Labor With Appointees

Politics: Living-wage advocate is headed to CRA. The mayor, unions both oppose secession.

September 13, 2002|TINA DAUNT and PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Living-wage advocate Madeline Janis-Aparicio is expected to be confirmed today to the city's powerful Community Redevelopment Agency--one of a series of labor-supported appointments that Mayor James K. Hahn is making in an effort to reach out to union leaders fighting efforts to break up the city.

Hahn, who is asking the City Council to confirm Janis-Aparicio today, appointed her at the urging of Miguel Contreras, secretary-treasurer of the County Federation of Labor. Although Contreras strongly supported Antonio Villaraigosa in his mayoral campaign against Hahn last year, the mayor has reached out to Contreras in recent months to bolster his campaign against secession movements in the San Fernando Valley and in Hollywood.

In the coming weeks, Hahn is expected to make more pro-labor nominations to city commissions. Among those up for consideration is Tyrone Freeman, head of the service employees union, who is expected to join the Fire Commission. Hahn also is supporting the appointment of Sergio Rascon, with the hotel workers union, to the Convention and Exhibition Center Authority.

Hahn's courting of organized labor could have wide-ranging implications for the city by strengthening workers' hand in negotiations for affordable housing, wages and benefits. It also could undercut Villaraigosa's union support if he decides to run against Hahn in three years, as some believe he will.

"It's a smart political move and an easy one," said veteran political consultant Rick Taylor. "It's been a couple of years now, and he's trying to build some coalitions."

Contreras said that labor's relationship with the Hahn administration has improved considerably and that one of the things that brought the two sides together was their mutual opposition to secession.

"I think labor has an important voice at City Hall," Contreras said. "You could argue that wasn't the case in the beginning" of the Hahn administration.

When Hahn approached Contreras last year about joining his anti-secession campaign, Contreras had already decided to oppose secession. But he told Hahn that he would like the alliance to result in better relations, he said.

"We asked to work together more," Contreras said. "We both agree that we both have to work for the best of the city."

That has resulted in Hahn appointing more labor officials to city commissions. Contreras said he recommended Janis-Aparicio when Hahn asked him for the names of good potential appointees.

"Clearly, Madeline is more than just about labor. She is a community representative. Her direction is going to come from the community," Contreras said.

He said she was instrumental in negotiating for employees of Staples Center and the Hollywood-Highland commercial complex. But some business leaders and a councilwoman have expressed concern about Janis-Aparicio's appointment because they fear she would stifle development.

"It's critical to me to attract developers so I can bring more jobs into my district," said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents downtown Los Angeles and parts of South Los Angeles. "I think people deserve that. I have a lot of respect for Madeline. I think she is a very intelligent, educated and empowered woman. But I am deeply, deeply concerned."

Janis-Aparicio first became active in civic issues after she received her law degree from UCLA in the mid-1980s, filing suits on behalf of renters in downtown L.A. slums. She ran a Central American refugee center and then created the network behind the city's 1996 living-wage law.

She now runs Los Alliance for a New Economy, a nonprofit group created by organized labor to rally community support for organizing drives.

Hahn said Thursday that he picked Janis-Aparicio after soliciting recommendations from Contreras and other labor leaders. But, he said, there was no quid pro quo for the unions' help in fighting secession.

"Miguel recommended her, but I have known her for a while," Hahn said. "It's certainly not part of any deal or anything. I would expect him to recommend people to me from time to time, and I will solicit those recommendations from him. We want to have a good balance on commissions."

Reacting to the critics, Hahn defended the nomination.

"I think Madeline Janis-Aparicio is a tremendous addition to the redevelopment agency," Hahn said. "What we are talking about is trying to improve the quality of life in Los Angeles. There are neighborhoods that need the help only the redevelopment agency with its specialized legal status and tools can provide. That fits in nicely with what she's been talking about, improving the quality of life for individuals."

Hahn said he admires her advocacy for a living wage, which the CRA board has previously refused to adopt.

"If government is going to be providing assistance to companies doing business with the city, then they ought to also provide dignity to the people who work in those companies," Hahn said.

San Fernando Valley secession leader Richard Close said he does not believe the latest appointments are a coincidence. "There have been rumors that Hahn cut a deal with the unions to get their support to fight secession," Close said. "It seems that labor is getting more involved in control of city government, and that is because Hahn is pandering to them."

Council President Alex Padilla disagreed that Janis-Aparicio's appointment came in direct exchange for labor opposition to secession, noting that labor came out early against the breakaway efforts.

"I think she is a good appointment. She brings a unique and different perspective to redevelopment," Padilla said. "She is a very strong and very effective voice for social justice."

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