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Hahn Could Be Election's Loser

Former foes Parks and Villaraigosa joining the City Council is sure to cost the mayor clout. Other council members say clashes are likely.

March 06, 2003|Patrick McGreevy, Jessica Garrison and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

Even as former Police Chief Bernard Parks was being sworn into office as Los Angeles' newest city councilman Wednesday, officials and political analysts already were speculating that Mayor James K. Hahn's clout will erode amid the power shift underway at City Hall.

The City Council took the unusual step of immediately appointing Parks to the vacant 8th District seat, a day after he and former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa won election to the council for terms beginning July 1.

Both Parks and Villaraigosa are expected to butt heads with Hahn and Council President Alex Padilla, and with two council races still to be decided in a May runoff, the changing dynamics were already apparent.

"It has the potential to shake up the power at City Hall quite a bit," Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at USC, said of Tuesday's election.

"You have two rivals of the mayor joining the City Council where they will now be major players. I don't think the mayor is celebrating the results of this election."

Some council members were openly speculating that Villaraigosa would challenge Padilla for the council presidency, a move that would further weaken Hahn's influence.

"There may be a change in presidency," said Councilman Dennis Zine, a Padilla supporter who said there is already talk about others running for president. "When you have a high-profile person like Antonio, who was speaker of the Assembly, that is obviously a challenge if he decides to come in and take over the presidency."

Parks, who was denied another term as police chief last year after Hahn refused to back him, easily outpolled four others in the 8th District. The seat has been vacant since November, when Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas moved to the state Assembly, so the council exercised its rarely used power to appoint Parks even before the election has been certified.

Villaraigosa, who lost to Hahn in a close race for mayor two years ago, won the 14th District election with about 57% of the vote, unseating Councilman Nick Pacheco, who was backed by Hahn and Padilla but received only 40%.

"Clearly the mayor has to mend fences and reach out," said Miguel Contreras, a Villaraigosa ally who is head of the county Federation of Labor. "After all, he fired one and won an election over the other."

In the other races, voters reelected Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, unopposed in the 2nd District, and 4th District Councilman Tom LaBonge. Also elected was former Assemblyman Tony Cardenas in the 6th District.

Two other races, in the 10th and 12th council districts, will be settled in a May 20 runoff.

Parks and Villaraigosa both downplayed past differences with Hahn, and the mayor and Padilla said Wednesday they want to work cooperatively with the two powerful new council members.

"I'm someone who's easy to work with," Hahn said Wednesday. "I'm interested in working with anyone who wants to make the city better."

"There's no animosity on my side," he added. "I think what I tried to demonstrate since I came in here, I'm someone who's not at odds with the City Council."

Some tension surfaced, though, when the mayor was asked about Parks' comments that he opposes the new LAPD policy of no longer responding to unverified residential burglar alarms.

"I think that's interesting because I think it was originally the police chief who said he was concerned about the number of false alarms and actually the process began back when he was police chief," Hahn said.

On Wednesday morning, Parks said he received a call of congratulations from the mayor of New Orleans, a friend, but not from Hahn. A Hahn representative said the mayor tried to reach Parks early Wednesday morning, and hopes to meet with him this week.

Parks said he was willing to work with Hahn and Padilla despite any past differences.

"It's going to be fine," he said. "We look at this as a turning of the page and a moving forward, and anybody who carries burdens of the past, that is their burden. We don't view it that way."

Villaraigosa also downplayed past political squabbles and the impact of his election on council politics. "That kind of power politics is the last thing on my mind right now, frankly," he said.

Although Villaraigosa said he has no plan to challenge Hahn for the mayor's job in two years, many believe he, Padilla and Parks will likely be among the leading contenders for the job in six years, which further complicates the City Hall dynamics.

"I don't believe the two new council members see that as a seat of retirement," said political consultant Allan Hoffenblum. "They both have ambitions."

Padilla extended an olive branch Wednesday, calling Villaraigosa to offer cooperation, pushing through a special motion to put Parks in office immediately and hosting the former chief's private swearing-in ceremony in Padilla's council office.

Still, some council members said Padilla, a close ally of Hahn, will have to fight to keep the presidency, and there were signs that some of his support may be eroding.

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