The Mayor Pitches a Lob to His Critic
It doesn't quite rise to the level of fiddling while Rome
burns. But as local and federal investigators chased
suspected bagmen around Los Angeles and half the mayor's
staff ran for cover in the midst of a corruption probe, Jim
Hahn left a message this week offering to take me to a
Nice gesture, I suppose. But I wondered if the mayor had
gone into full panic mode and was coming unraveled.
I know he's been friendly of late, uncharacteristically
glad-handing his way around City Hall in search of new
friends. But if you were on the hot seat, would you try
making nice with a wiseguy who's been calling you Slim Jim
for three years?
The heat at City Hall got turned up yet another notch
today. The Times reports on claims by an engineering
company's executives that they might have lost a
multimillion-dollar LAX contract because they refused to
play ball the L.A. way.
They say their own lobbyist told them Hahn's good buddy Ted
Stein, president of the airport commission, was muscling
them for a $100,000 donation to the mayor's anti-secession
campaign. They claim they reported this to Hahn but still
lost the contract.
"There has never, ever been a quid pro quo on any contract
at the airport," Stein told The Times.
Hahn told me he doesn't recall such a complaint from the
company that lost the contract. There simply is no
pay-to-play politics, he insisted, "but the perception has
Allow me to explain why.
Any time you put friends, yes men and other political hacks
on port and airport commissions, doling out fat contracts
in virtual secrecy to companies represented by lobbyists,
you might as well seat the grand jury in advance.
In L.A., where literally billions of dollars are at stake,
the temptation for shady deals is magnified. Until
recently, Los Angeles allowed commissioners to solicit
donations for the political bosses who appointed them,
which was like an open invitation to corruption.
As for Hahn's claim that there's no pay-to-play politics,
here's a question:
If the executives of private companies thought they could
win contracts on merit and qualifications, how many of them
would hire lobbyists and write six-figure checks to
True to form, Mayor Hahn didn't have much to say when
questions about sleazy contract-awarding first popped up in
February. In fact, he said he didn't understand all the
Then one day, an advisor apparently ducked into Hahn's
bunker, interrupted his nap and managed to convince him the
public generally frowns on corruption. And besides, he's up
for reelection next year.
Next thing you knew, Hahn was skipping around City Hall as
if he'd invented campaign finance reform.
His call for sweeping changes was so fabulously abrupt,
city officials ran out of superlatives trying to describe
his Lazarus-like awakening.
I told Hahn I once covered a Philadelphia mayor with a
similar MO. Whatever crisis arose, he would underreact,
underreact, underreact, and then suddenly overreact, making
the situation worse.
Philly Mayor Wilson Goode's work reached its pinnacle when,
in trying to serve an eviction notice on a family violating
building and safety codes, he dropped a bomb from a
helicopter, killing 11 people, destroying 61 homes and
making up to 260 residents homeless.
Hahn, speaking in his own defense, reminded me he hadn't
bombed anything yet.
Every time I talk to him, I come away with two
First, he's smart and funny.
Second, he is no more comfortable playing mayor than I
would be dancing ballet.
It's particularly noticeable in a sprawling, stratified
metropolis that cries out for a dynamic leader with a
unifying notion of what Los Angeles can be.
Instead of bold imaginings, we get a mayoral task force
that sits around for a year trying to figure out why L.A.
has traffic problems. This week, the mayor appointed
another "blue ribbon" panel to flap their gums about city
"He's the classic example of the guy who fell into the
family business, and there he is," said Bill Boyarsky, the
former Times' City Editor and columnist who's now on the
L.A. Ethics Commission.
Boyarsky was referring to Hahn's late father, revered
County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.
"The master local politician," Boyarsky called Jim's
Well, you can't entirely dismiss Junior's political skills
â€" calling up a critic and inviting him to a
ballgame. He said he read that I was riding the bus after a
bike accident and met a rabid Dodger fan, and he wants to
take both of us to Chavez Ravine.
Sounds nice enough. Of course, it could be a shakedown.
Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
See the article on Los Angeles Times website