Citing an unspecified conflict, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has declined to face his mayoral challengers in the campaign's first debate next month.
"He's not available to participate," Hahn campaign spokeswoman Julie Wong said Thursday, refusing to state what the mayor would be doing at 6 p.m. Dec. 2, when the hourlong debate is to be held.
Hahn's four major challengers -- state Sen. Richard Alarcon, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, Councilman Bernard C. Parks and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa -- accepted invitations to attend the event, which will be televised on KNBC-TV Channel 4.
In 2001, the mayoral candidates squared off in more than 75 debates. But incumbent politicians often avoid debates, which tend to boost the profile and stature of challengers.
The debate was originally scheduled for October, but Hahn declined that invitation. He later explained that October was too early because candidates could wait until November to file.
The debate was rescheduled for Dec. 2 at the Museum of Tolerance.
Scott Regberg, who is organizing the debate in conjunction with the League of Women Voters, said he asked what prevented Hahn from attending this debate, but the campaign would not tell him.
Asked Thursday why she wouldn't identify Hahn's conflict, Wong said: "Because I'm not."
Wong said the mayor would participate in other debates, including one sponsored by the California League of Conservation Voters later next month.
Hahn's opponents were quick to criticize him for skipping the event.
"It's incredibly disrespectful to the voters of Los Angeles," said Alarcon, a Sun Valley Democrat. "The mayor cannot hide in City Hall."
In a written statement, Parks, who officially filed Thursday to oppose Hahn, said: "A leader stands up for the people. A politician scampers from the people."
Hertzberg, meanwhile, has been running an online petition drive to pressure Hahn to attend. A campaign spokesman said that as of 3 p.m. Thursday, the petition had 419 signatures.
Villaraigosa was unavailable for comment.
Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.