Another Mayoral Debate in Los Angeles OR What If No One Cares?

Tonight we’ll have another one of those oh-so-clever “debates” between the Mayoral contenders. You can watch it on TV locally at KABC or listen to it on KPFK (which features a live iTunes broadcast as well).
Pre-debate commentary can be found at Mack Reed’s LA Voice, and at LA Observed, and elsewhere.
However, I think once again we (“we’ being pundits, bloggers, press folks, political pros, and associated hangers on) are putting way too much on a debate very few people will bother to watch.
After all, we’re days away from Christmas, and I seriously doubt people are stopping their packing, shopping, wrapping, and partying to stop and watch 3 hours of quippy one liners that will end up sounding like a bad imitation of the chatty dialogue of the Gilmore Girls.
We’re also in the shadow of yet another inquiry into Mayor Hahn’s 2001 campaign fundraising. Yet despite this, and the water-torture of bad news for Mayor Hahn, I’m beginning to wonder if anyone will care once they get to the polls.
I’m not a big fan of the Mayor myself – he has let a lot of opportunities to move the city forward with a vision greater than His Re Election pass through his fingers, and while the hiring of Chief Bratton was a good idea, that’s the only one Hahn has had so far.
It’s clear also that something fishy has been going on vis-à-vis the DWP, Fleishman Hillard, and the 2001 campaign apparatus which is smelling really bad, although there is still lots of searching and investigating, with only a handful of cases coming to light so far.
That said, I’m now starting to wonder, especially in light of recent elections, if that’s enough to see the Mayor earn an early retirement in 2005, or if we’ll need more. While there’s plenty of big talk right now about how Mayor Hahn is the AntiChrist to a concerned group of citizens who are supporting their candidates for Mayor, there’s no indication that the great majority of voting Angelenos are as hot and bothered about this as they are.
Again, I’m not defending the Mayor, or his actions – but I am taking a realistic look at the landscape and seeing a much tougher route for any challenger, with or without a snazzy website and/or witty one liners, than even I’d expected.
Now, while I offer a lay of the land, I have some specifics that could help level the playing field, but as a wise person once told me, “Don’t give away intellectual property you intend to market.” In otherwords, no free advice for Mayoral candidates. See the PayPal link or send me an email for current rates.
Let’s take a look at what anyone out there challenging The Man has to fight in order to get Their Candidate elected:
1. Mayor Hahn has lots of money. There’s a benefit to being an incumbent – you can do all sorts of nice things for people and concerned folks and they’ll like you in return. So much that they’ll give you campaign contributions to reward your hard work on their behalf.
Despite all his troubles, the Mayor continues to out-raise his opponents and has been keeping overhead low. He will have more than enough to pay for a huge campaign that papers over his troubles and talks about crime and Chief Bratton. He will have lots of help with this from labor unions and Democratic Party folks. For now they just keep on raising the campaign cash.
Challengers trying to go tit-for-tat on charge and counter charge against someone with way more money is a mistake. Just ask any one of a number of hopeful reformers who’ve challenged The Man.
Although they don’t have a great website up yet it also means they probably won’t be spending money on one until people actually start paying attention to the campaign next month.
2. Mayor Hahn has Kam Kuwata on his side. Anyone who dismisses the role of Kam Kuwata in shaping Hahn’s campaign needs their head examined. Why did the Valley secession campaign lose? Because Kam Kuwata ran the “no” campaign.
Remember how everyone kept carping about how laggard the “no” side was? Remember which side ended up winning? I’ve met Mr. Kuwata before and he’s easily one of the most knowledgeable strategists still working campaigns out there, having been a longtime advisor to Sen. Feinstein and others. And he’s a local, living down the street from me here in Venice, so you know he’s a good guy too.
3. No public polling indicates a large shift in public opinion to “kick the bums out. I don’t know that if I took a poll this Christmas asking LA voters if they think LA is the happiest place on earth I’d get a majority saying “Yes, Most Certainly, Sir!.”
I’m also beginning to wonder, in an era of diminished expectations, if people are more resigned to mediocrity than they were in the past. The fact that this year’s City Council elections are pretty dead, with only token challengers to most incumbents, a few with no challengers, and only one real competitive race out here in Venice, suggests either that people think things are fine, or people are accepting the status quo, like it or not.
No poll I’ve seen (and if you have one that you think says different, please, show it to me) indicates a critical mass of personal anger at the Mayor himself for the way things are. That can change, and I’m sure after a barrage of attacks, it could.
Even after such a barrage, the fact is we only have about two months before the first round of voting, and it’s not clear to me that simply reciting the failures of the Hahn administration over and over again is going to be enough to get him out. More importantly, it’s not clear right now who of the contenders is now shaping up as the “one to beat” for Hahn.
Take a trip in the Wayback Machine to the recent presidential debacle. John Kerry and his media advisor, Bob Shrum, actually invented a new way to blow an election, despite all their “advantages” over an incumbent who was facing problems a lot larger than DWP contracting issues.
He still lost.
In other words, just having a lousy incumbent with problems is no longer enough to give them the boot. If people can give a pass to the President on a war and an economy gone wrong, they’re as likely to do so for our Mayor. Hey, it’s not like the Mayor started any wars or anything, right?
We might see the same thing happen here. If after two months we still have nothing but Mayor Hahn and the Four Guys Who Bitch, eventually the press is going to start taking shots at those who sling barbs at the Mayo, taking them them all down a notch.
Now, this assumes the candidates challenging Hahn will fall for this ruse. I surely don’t think that’s the case. But then again, I’ve also seen campaigns with more money and cleverer folks go down in similar situations. It’s not easy terrain to navigate.
Well there you have it. How Mayor Hahn could win. Anything can happen in two months, and we will certainly have some surprises in store for us, which makes covering the election that much more fun
However, at the same time “we” have to be careful we don’t get caught up in the whirlwind of point and counter point so much that we don’t acknowledge just how hard it is to take out even a bad incumbent in the 21st Century.
PS: I want to take a moment to alert all interested parties that Nancy Rommelmann, formerly of Los Angeles, and the ever popular “Leaving LA” blog at, is back online again, now in rainy (but very cool) Portland, OR. I urge you all to check it out. Ms. Rommelmann was one of the first people to encourage me to keep up with this site, and over a year later, I’m still here!
I also want to take a moment to thank LittleCrow who graciously purchased a year’s worth of pro access here at for me for Christmas. Thank you!!!

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

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