Jim Hahn doesn't mention fun when he recounts his high school years. He was a sprinter on the track team, but never won a race. He ran for several student government offices, but lost every time. He never had a girlfriend, and can't remember a lot of dates.
But his high school yearbook tells another story. Jim Hahn was voted best-looking and most spirited by the senior class of 1968. He was sports editor of the school newspaper, director of student activities for the senior class, an escort for the homecoming court and a member of the cheerleading squad.
As a "yell king," he wore white pants and his letterman's sweater and did stunts on the court at basketball games. His job was to pump up the crowd at Los Angeles Lutheran High School.
"The basketball coach wanted to increase attendance at the games," recalled Hahn's fellow yell king, J.C. Agajanian Jr. "So he figured out if he got certain personalities that were popular and well-liked and they were down there on the floor, the kids would think it was cool to go to games."
The fringe benefit was the chance to cozy up to the cheerleaders. "All of a sudden, we were one of the in-crowd," Agajanian said.
But being part of the in-crowd wasn't easy for Jim. When he was picked as one of five escorts for the homecoming court, a yearbook photo recorded the result. His four comrades are shown squirming in their tuxes. The caption reflects their missing partner: "Jim Hahn was too nervous even to be photographed."
That prim reserve, a throwback to his 1950s-style upbringing, is still a defining trait of James K. Hahn as he battles for his second term as mayor of Los Angeles. Even on the campaign trail, he projects the same sort of strait-laced earnestness that marked his formative years in South Los Angeles.
The area was swirling with social change: its neighborhoods shifting from white to black, young people challenging their elders' power. Members of Jim Hahn's family were central players. His father, Kenneth, was the county supervisor representing the area when it exploded in riots in 1965, the summer before Jim's sophomore year in high school.
But though he was raised in South Los Angeles, Jim Hahn was not exactly a child of the 'hood. As a kid, his best friends were not his black neighbors but the white kids in his church youth group and his cousins a few blocks away in then-predominantly white Inglewood.
Hahn's elementary school was all white, and he left the local junior high for private school after being roughed up repeatedly by tough young blacks. His parents cemented his outsider status, insisting on a proper decorum in the rebellious 1960s.
In his youth are the seeds of Hahn's adult success and his present political challenges. Self-effacing and likable as a child, conscientious and responsible in his teens, he was also innately unconnected to his home community. That detachment would come back to haunt him four decades later, when he lost the support of many black voters over what they considered his clumsy ouster of Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks.
It's impossible to know how much of Hahn's demeanor is innate and how much owes to the burden of straddling two worlds, trying to reconcile battling self-images.
In the public's eye, he was groomed for greatness, ever on stage -- the photogenic, good-guy son of the legendary Kenny Hahn. But on his home turf, he was invisible, his role constricted by his shyness, his confidence neutralized by his status as one of the few white children in a neighborhood of blacks.
James Kenneth Hahn was born in 1950, when the Hahn family -- his father was then a city councilman -- lived near 89th and Figueroa streets, in a small home that Jim remembers primarily because it was four doors from Manchester Park, where he learned to swim and hung out with neighborhood children.
In 1959, the family -- Kenneth, by then a county supervisor; his wife, Ramona; 9-year-old Jim; and 7-year-old Janice -- moved to Morningside Park, into a three-bedroom Spanish-style corner bungalow that faced a Baptist church across the street. The neighborhood -- 78th Place and Crenshaw Boulevard, a few blocks east of Inglewood -- was solidly middle-class and virtually all white.
Before long, though, young black families began trickling in, moving up from the same sorts of inner-city neighborhoods that Hahn's family had left behind. Kenny Hahn was a one-man welcoming committee, taking new black residents door to door, introducing them to their white neighbors.
But unscrupulous real estate agents were going door to door too, preying on white homeowners' fears by warning them to sell quickly, before the influx of blacks made property values drop.
"We ended up being one of the few white families who stayed," Hahn recalled. "That was too bad, because if they'd stayed they would have seen you couldn't tell the difference between the black families and the white families. You drive down the street and everybody has the manicured lawns and the nice cars in the driveway."