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Hahn Loses Power Play to Bolster the LAPD

June 05, 2003|Peter Nicholas, Matea Gold and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

Ending an uneasy standoff that tested Mayor James K. Hahn's political clout, the City Council voted immediately Wednesday to override his veto of the city budget -- rejecting again his plans to add hundreds of new police officers.

It was the first time in Hahn's two-year tenure that the council had overridden his veto, and council members withstood an aggressive lobbying campaign that mixed rewards and punishment, accusations and flattery.

The city's $5.1-billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 will be the one the council approved last week. It includes a more modest police hiring plan and strives to avert a shortfall that had been projected at $280 million next year if Hahn's version of the spending plan had prevailed.

Council President Alex Padilla, once a Hahn ally who broke with the mayor in the budget fight, called the seven-week debate "the first big and high-profile test of the relationship" between the mayor and the City Council. "I'm proud of the council for having stood up to pressure to do what we believe is right."

Hahn vetoed the budget about 4:45 p.m. Within half an hour, council members, who had been waiting in the marble chamber with ebbing patience, voted 11 to 3 to override.

"There are many people who believe that having an after-school program, a park open during the summer months, is just as important as having a police car on the street," said Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the former police chief.

Siding with the mayor were Councilwoman Janice Hahn, his sister, along with council members Tom LaBonge and Jan Perry. Councilman Hal Bernson left before the vote.

"I am disappointed by the council's actions to delay the hiring of new police officers and to delay the critically needed reorganization of the Los Angeles Police Department," the mayor said in a prepared statement. "I will work to ensure that the City Council's vote is not a permanent setback to our efforts to combat crime and reduce gang violence in Los Angeles."

Since taking office in 2001, Hahn has vetoed just two other bills -- measures involving campaign finance and term limits. Both vetoes were sustained.

The budget impasse upset the power dynamic in City Hall, severing alliances between the mayor and council leaders, and propelling the council to a more independent role in setting policy.

Apart from Padilla, Hahn also lost the support of two important allies on the Budget and Finance Committee: Councilmen Nick Pacheco and Eric Garcetti.

Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, called the budget fight "a very important test" for the mayor and the city.

"The mayor always uses his symbolic power of the bully pulpit and his divide-and-conquer strategy," Guerra said. "If there is a pattern of being unable to sustain a veto, the divide and conquer isn't there and you start to take away that symbolic power of the mayor setting the agenda for the city."

The override capped a fevered lobbying effort that stretched from Hahn's release of the budget in mid-April until virtually the moment the council voted.

Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who opposed the mayor's budget, distributed copies of her campaign literature from 1987 that read, "Ruth Galanter ... She Can't Be Bought and She Won't Back Down."

Galanter, who will leave office June 30, said she posted the flier in response to heavy lobbying from the mayor and those close to him, including an offer for her to serve on the California High Speed Rail Authority.

On Monday afternoon, she said, she received a call from the office of Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City), saying he would support her for that position because he embraced the mayor's public safety agenda.

Galanter said the mayor, who had lobbied her in her office, never offered any kind of quid pro quo.

But she said she was "besieged" by phone calls, including one from a city employee who said she was calling on behalf of Deputy Mayor Matt Middlebrook. Middlebrook, the aide said, wanted Galanter to know that the mayor's office could be helpful to her in the future.

"I was a little offended," she said. "This is a mayor who, from the moment he was elected, has spurned any collaboration with me.... Someone made the judgment that I was prepared to sell out for six months on a state commission. I am not prepared to sell out."

Middlebrook declined to comment.

In a phone interview Wednesday evening, Wesson confirmed that Hahn contacted him to ask that he give Galanter a position on the rail authority. But he denied that he ever discussed the budget vote with the mayor, or that his staff offered Galanter a position in exchange for her vote.

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