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Hahn Using Carrot, Stick on Budget

Council members tell of incentives, punishment as the mayor seeks to avoid a veto override. 'Horse trading goes on every day,' he says.

May 31, 2003|Matea Gold and Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writers

As he headed into a veto showdown with the Los Angeles City Council, Mayor James K. Hahn waged a campaign Friday to build a coalition for his police hiring plan, dangling incentives in front of a council that has so far rebuffed his efforts.

Among other moves, the mayor signaled to Tom LaBonge his support for creating a constituent service center in the councilman's Hollywood district. LaBonge is backing the mayor's proposed expansion of the Police Department.

Hahn also promised to nominate Councilwoman Jan Perry to a post on the regional air quality management board, according to Councilman Eric Garcetti, who had sought the position.

Perry is considered one of three swing votes Hahn needs to sustain his promised veto of the council's budget plan, while Garcetti has consistently voted with the council majority. Garcetti said he was summoned to an unexpected interview with the mayor the day after he voted against Hahn's budget plan, then told an hour later that he had been rejected for the post in favor of Perry.

The lobbying comes as Hahn prepares to veto the council's budget plan, which was approved 11 to 3 on Wednesday and would delay, until the city's finances were clearer, the hiring of 320 new police officers sought by the mayor. The mayor's veto is expected early next week.

Ten council members could override the veto, and Hahn did not yet appear Friday to have the six votes he needs for it to be sustained.

"I think most council members have made up their minds," said council President Alex Padilla, who has taken a lead in urging the delay in new spending. "I can't see anything being said over the next several days that's going to change anyone's mind."

Several council members who oppose the immediate expansion of the Police Department said their positions had only been solidified by Chief William J. Bratton's comment Thursday that the council's delay of the police hiring would undercut his ability to reduce crime.

"It's unfortunate that he's acting more like a politician than a police chief right now," Councilman Nick Pacheco said.

Councilman Ed Reyes called the chief's comments "cavalier," saying Bratton's warning that he would not be able to stop homicides undermines efforts to make people in crime-ridden areas feel more secure.

"How do we build up confidence if the chief is using this as a political trump card?" Reyes asked. "What inspiration does he give people, what hope?"

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Bratton View Rebutted

Several council members said Bratton's insistence that he would be short-staffed does not have merit, because the budget approved by the council authorizes the LAPD to continue hiring as many as 400 officers to replace those expected to leave next year. By that time, if the city's finances are healthy, the council will approve the hiring of the additional 320 officers, they said.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the mayor's sister and a staunch backer of his budget plan, said her colleagues should not question the motives of the chief and the mayor.

Maybe the two leaders "could have had more people skills," she said, referring to the charged rhetoric of the last two weeks. But it's time to "put personalities aside. I would hope there are six council members who believe this is the right thing to do."

The mayor's office launched an all-out effort Friday to secure those six votes to avert what would be one of the biggest political setbacks of his two-year tenure. Tim McOsker, Hahn's chief of staff, hovered in the council chambers throughout the council's meeting, pulling different members aside for private conversations.

The lobbying focused primarily on three council members -- Wendy Greuel, Dennis Zine and Perry -- who originally backed a compromise plan floated by the mayor but ultimately supported the council's budget plan.

For the mayor to prevail, he would need all three to sustain his veto -- along with council members Hal Bernson, Hahn and LaBonge, who have consistently supported his position.

A spokesman for the mayor, Matt Middlebrook, neither confirmed nor denied Friday that favors were being offered for votes.

In an interview, Hahn said, "Horse-trading goes on every day in City Hall," mostly for "stuff we agree on that's good for the city." Because the budget is so tight, the mayor said, he is not in a position to offer financial help for projects important to individual members.

"That's not one of the things that can be brought to the table," he said.

LaBonge said that when he told the mayor he would support the police expansion, Hahn thanked him and reminded him of the constituent service center the councilman wants to set up in Hollywood.

"I may be able to help you with that," the mayor said, according to LaBonge.

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Surprise Interview

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