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Janice Hahn Supports Her Brother, but Stands Apart

The councilwoman has at times opposed the mayor, most recently on burglar alarms issue.

January 20, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

City Councilwoman Janice Hahn was elated.

The City Council had just voted to review a Police Commission order that ended police responses to unverified burglar alarms. Hahn led the charge to persuade the council to take up the matter, with the hope of eventually overturning the measure.

"I don't think anybody wants to be on the side of a policy that basically says we're not going to respond to burglar alarms," she said last week.

Tell that to her brother.

While Janice Hahn was organizing angry residents to testify before the City Council, an aide to Mayor James K. Hahn was quietly letting council members know that he was in favor of the new policy, designed to free police officers from responding to false alarms, which make up 92% of the calls.

When the council voted to reconsider the measure, the mayor said it would take "some awfully tough convincing" to persuade him to oppose the new policy.

It was one of the few times Janice Hahn and her older brother had been on opposite sides of an issue since they both took office in July 2001, underscoring the careful balance of cooperation and independence Los Angeles' first brother-sister duo have usually struck since arriving at City Hall.

Publicly, the councilwoman is the mayor's biggest booster. Privately, she is his closest advisor. Yet she has simultaneously managed to forge her own identity on the council, occasionally even taking different stances from him on high-profile issues.

"Although they are very close personally, she seems to have carved out her own territory politically," said Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton. "There doesn't seem to be any requirement on their part that they act in lock step."

City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who sits next to Hahn in the council chamber and works with her on neighborhood initiatives, said she had never seen her colleague shy away from an issue because of the mayor's position.

"She's extraordinarily independent and strong," Greuel said. "I have never seen her carry her brother's water. She has demonstrated from Day One that she is her own person."

Mayor Hahn agreed.

"I'm not using Janice as my messenger on the City Council," he said. "If anything, it goes the other way around: She is setting agendas for me to respond to."

For the most part, the Hahn siblings have been in agreement on a wide array of city issues, from the empowerment of neighborhood councils to the need for greater security at the port. The two are spotted together frequently. She danced with him on election night to celebrate the defeat of secession and accompanied him on an eight-day trip to Asia in November.

But although they agree on much, Janice Hahn said she believes it is vital to maintain a separate agenda from her brother.

"I think it's important for people to know that we're not exactly alike, and he cannot count on my vote on the City Council for any of his issues," she said.

The councilwoman has demonstrated a tendency to question the status quo at City Hall. When secession movements in the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood threatened to split apart Los Angeles last year, she came out strongly for the creation of a borough system -- something the mayor opposed. And when the Police Commission approved the new alarm policy, she scolded LAPD leaders for failing to solicit more community input beforehand. She even criticized her brother, albeit diplomatically.

"Everybody, maybe the mayor included, underestimated how people would feel about this decision," she said after dozens of people showed up Tuesday at City Hall to protest the new alarm policy.

The Hahn siblings are undeniably close. They live three blocks away from each other in San Pedro, and the mayor's children frequently visit their cousins and swim in the pool at their condominium. During the trip to Asia, the Hahns shopped for souvenirs together and teased each other in a manner unique to brothers and sisters. She gave him pep talks when the pace of the trip grew wearying.

But the councilwoman's constituents said they view her and the mayor as very distinct politicians, despite their relationship.

"It's an interesting sort of situation," said Noah Modisett, a board member of the Coastal San Pedro neighborhood council. "We don't have a feeling that they collude, that they meet in some kitchen and decide what they're going to do. At the same time, we don't feel like they're family enemies."

Their disparate styles distinguish them, even if their politics don't, observers said.

"Jim isn't at his best in a large crowd, at being an orator, while Janice is one of the best, creative and loquacious speakers there is," said Howard Uller, president of the Central San Pedro neighborhood council. "Meanwhile, he's absolutely great at listening to a problem and thinking of a City Hall solution to that problem."

Janice Hahn said that she and her brother complement each other's strengths.

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