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Some Barbershop Advice for the Mayor

April 08, 2005|Steve Lopez

Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson, Stevie Wonder, Magic Johnson, Jim Hahn.

Wait a minute, how'd the low-key mayor of Los Angeles sneak into such a star-studded paragraph?

I'll get to that later.

First, it was nice to see the Rev. Al Sharpton clear things up Wednesday regarding Simpson, who may have thought that blacks across America were cheering for him when the jury acquitted him of murder.

Hardly, said Sharpton at Johnnie Cochran's funeral. They were cheering for Cochran, who died last week after a career that began in the trenches in Los Angeles, doing civil rights work.

The gang at Tolliver's barbershop agreed with Sharpton. Lawrence Tolliver took a poll this week on whether O.J. did it. The barbershop jury found O.J. guilty by a vote of 9 to 1.

The funeral was on live television, and I had dropped by Tolliver's to see what the regulars thought about Hahn's tribute to Cochran.

You couldn't call Mayor Hahn the whitest man at the West Angeles Cathedral, because Michael Jackson was there. But I was a little concerned about how Slim Jim might come off in a group of raise-the-roof speakers like Sharpton.

Hahn had one up his sleeve, though. He took the pulpit and said he and Cochran had gone to Israel together and dipped themselves in the River Jordan during a baptismal rite.

Who knew?

No wonder I can't get Hahn to go out on the town with Veronica, the mystery woman who wrote to me offering to spice up the mayor's life. Having a good time may be against his religion.

My concern, for Hahn's sake, was that his Cochran salute might be seen as pandering, and push even more of the black vote over to Antonio Villaraigosa. But Tolliver said Hahn came across well, and as he sees it, it's too early to count the mayor out in the black community.

"I'd say it's about 50-50 right now," Tolliver said.

If so, that could spell doom for Hahn. Four years ago, he got 80% of the black vote. This time around, Villaraigosa has grabbed endorsements from Rep. Maxine Waters and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, among others.

"All the black people who would have been influenced by an endorsement have already been influenced," Tolliver said, discounting the significance. Besides, he said, if Hahn were running against the Ku Klux Klan, he still wouldn't get an endorsement from Parks, the man he dumped as police chief.

The vote shouldn't have anything to do with skin color, said a woman named Shirley, who dropped by for a trim.

Yeah, right.

Gary Hendrick, the shoeshine man, said he's voting for Villaraigosa because the last time he was in prison, jailers mistook him for a Latino and put him in with some hermanos. They had a lot fewer fights in the Latino section than the black section, Hendrick said.

"If Villaraigosa wins," said Mr. Ford, the barbershop elder, "we might as well all be living in Mexico."

Mr. Ford, by the way, was giving a trim to a gent named Cornelius, who said he served 23 1/2 years in prison on a rap that would have been much worse if Johnnie Cochran, God rest his soul, hadn't knocked down the charges.

Look at what's been happening the last few decades, Mr. Ford said, complaining that janitorial and street-cleaning jobs have been lost to Latinos. As for other jobs, he said, wages have been driven down by illegal immigrants.

"Everybody else is taking the job the Negro is supposed to have," Mr. Ford lamented.

Another patron suggested that people should get off their butts if they want to grab the jobs that are out there.

Tolliver echoed the sentiment, saying the black community's problems can't be blamed on Latinos. The city has changed, Tolliver said, and sooner or later, it will have a Latino mayor.

It'll happen next month if Rod Wright has anything to do with it. Wright, a former Assemblyman, pulled up in his spanking-new Maserati to shill for Villaraigosa. I asked if he'd been to the Cochran funeral.

"They already got enough people down there to make a Tarzan movie," Wright said, adding that he'd paid his respects earlier in the week.

So why Antonio instead of Slim Jim?

Hahn's lackluster career, Wright said. And the fact that when he became mayor, thanks to help from lots of friends, he ignored them and surrounded himself with staffers nobody knew.

"He couldn't crush a grape in a fruit fight," Wright said.

Then how did Hahn manage to whip Villaraigosa in the last debate? I asked. Unless you ask Antonio what he had for lunch, good luck getting any specifics out of him.

"We're going to fix that," Wright said.

Mr. Ford, holding a copy of a Christian magazine, said he wouldn't vote for Villaraigosa if Jesus Christ told him to.

You sure about that? I asked.

All right, he said. If Jesus called and told him to vote for Antonio, so be it.

Wright said he'd work on that.

Tolliver said his vote is still up for grabs, but after three visits to the barbershop by Hahn and only one by Villaraigosa, it sounds to me as though l he's leaning toward the mayor. In fact, he has some advice for him on how to nail down more of the black vote.

"Date a black woman," he said. "I could find him four or five black women and he could date all of them."

If the slipper won't fit, then don't commit.

With the election more than a month away, Tolliver said, Hahn can find a date in every voting bloc.

"Black woman this week, Jewish woman next week, Hispanic woman after that."

I was going to retire as the mayor's matchmaker. Technically, he's still married, and if he's not ready to move on, maybe I should butt out. But obviously I'm not the only one who thinks he could use some arm candy.

Come on, Jim. Take a walk on the wild side.

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