May 18, 2005
LOS ANGELES - Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa trounced Mayor James Hahn to become the city's first Hispanic mayor in more than a century as voters embraced the promise of change in a metropolis troubled by gridlock, gangs and failing schools.
Tuesday's election confirms the rising political power of Latinos in the nation's second-largest city.
In a victory speech before thousands of supporters in downtown Los Angeles, Villaraigosa, 52, paid tribute to his heritage while promising to bring the city's diverse racial and ethnic groups together.
"I stand here today because people believed in me. I want you to know I believe in you as well," he said amid chants of "Si, se puede," Spanish for "Yes, we can."
"Our purpose is to bring this great city together."
The election was a resounding defeat for Hahn, who was unable to keep his campaign focused on Los Angeles' falling crime rate and rising job growth. After a lackluster term tainted by corruption allegations at City Hall, Hahn was turned out of office in favor of a high school dropout and son of the barrio who once sported a tattoo that proclaimed "Born to Raise Hell." Villaraigosa turned his life around to become speaker of the California Assembly and then a member of the Los Angeles City Council.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Villaraigosa had 260,721 votes, or 59 percent, to 183,749 votes, or 41 percent, for Hahn.
The election will have an impact even beyond Los Angeles. Villaraigosa's decisive victory immediately places him among the front rank of the nation's Latino political elite, while his city becomes the largest in America to be led by a Hispanic mayor.
When he is sworn in July 1, Villaraigosa will become the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles since 1872, back when the city was merely a dusty outpost of only about 5,000 residents. Hahn, the scion of a prominent political family, becomes the first Los Angeles mayor in 32 years to be bounced from office.
Now mayor-elect, Villaraigosa must find solutions to the problems he pointed out during the campaign - gang crime that terrorizes poor neighborhoods, a lack of affordable housing and worsening traffic congestion.
The bruising runoff between the two Democrats was a rematch of the 2001 election, in which Hahn rallied to defeat Villaraigosa and win his first term. Villaraigosa came back strong this year, nearly ousting Hahn in the March primary.
Elsewhere, Pittsburgh held a primary for mayor with the city mired in worst financial crisis since the collapse of the steel industry during the 1980s. And voters in Dover, Pa., picked their candidates for the school board in a community that has been roiled by a new and apparently first-in-the-nation policy requiring that students learn about the "intelligent design" theory of creation.
Hahn's family has been active in Los Angeles politics for decades; his father, Kenneth, was a beloved county supervisor. He touted Los Angeles' dropping crime and argued that he is the man to cure such urban ills such as failing schools and gridlock.
But the coalition of blacks and moderate-to-conservative San Fernando Valley voters that put him in office four years ago broke apart this time. He lost black support because he backed the ouster of Police Chief Bernard Parks, who is black, and he suffered fallout from allegations that his administration exchanged city contracts for campaign donations.
And Hahn's lawyerly - some say drab - image left him open to criticism that he isn't up to being the public face of star-studded L.A.
"People want substance rather than style. I think they want results rather than rhetoric," Hahn, 54, said after voting early Tuesday. "You know, maybe I have a charisma deficit disorder, but I've done the job people have elected me to do."
Hahn left his own party shortly before Villaraigosa declared victory Tuesday night. Before bidding his supporters goodnight, Hahn praised his administration and said he had accomplished much of what he set out to do.
Villaraigosa promised to bring a fresh start to the city.
"I will never forget where I came from. And I will always believe in the people of Los Angeles," he said Tuesday night.
In other races Tuesday:
- Former City Councilman Bob O'Connor beat a crowded field of Democrats in the Pittsburgh mayoral primary. O'Connor will be heavily favored to win in November because Pittsburgh is predominantly Democratic. Mayor Tom Murphy is not seeking a fourth term.
- In Dover, Pa., the primary for school board was dominated by the board's October decision to require that high school biology students be told about "intelligent design" when they learn about evolution. Republicans picked seven incumbents who support the policy, while Democrats favored challengers who say intelligent design doesn't belong in science class.
- Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, once called "America's Deadliest D.A." for her pursuit of the death penalty, took a big step toward winning a full fourth term by cruising to victory in the Democratic primary. The 64-year-old prosecutor defeated a 38-year-old lawyer who accused Abraham of being soft on corruption.
- In Erie, Pa., Mayor Rick Filippi, under indictment on charges of using insider information to try to profit from real estate deals, lost his re-election bid in the Democratic primary.