Thursday, March 03, 2005


Royal rumble

We have five days left until we head to the voting booths to decide the fate of Los Angeles. Actually, that's a gross overstatement of what's to come. If there's one thing I can guarantee from this election for the mayor of Los Angeles, it's that we'll be in good shape. The deciding factor that people fail to realize is not whether one of the candidates is a bad choice, but which one is a better choice. Three days ago I talked about the primary differences between the candidates, and what makes each one different. Now, with 96 hours to make their decision, voters are faced with the challenge of deciding who will get their ink based on ideological differences. It's unfortunate that once again, the ideology of each candidate is being overshadowed by various smear campaigns, each one dirtier than the next.
Five days before the Los Angeles election, Mayor James K. Hahn touched off an exchange of explosive campaign television ads Thursday with a spot slamming challengers Bob Hertzberg and Antonio Villaraigosa for seeking the early prison release of a drug trafficker.

Villaraigosa responded with an ad pounding Hahn for "corruption" and "scandals" at City Hall, citing a grand jury subpoena of the mayor's personal e-mails, resignations of three top officials and the indictment of a public-relations executive accused of overbilling the city.

Striking a lighter note, Hertzberg came back with an ad featuring himself as a towering giant whose oversized black shoe crushes a tiny television showing the Hahn spot.

"I'm Bob Hertzberg, and that's just plain wrong," the enlarged candidate says in his first ad attacking the incumbent by name. "Another Jim Hahn excuse, like Jim Hahn saying a mayor can't do anything to fix our schools — or that we need a tax increase to hire more police officers."

The charges and counter-charges set up an all-out campaign brawl for the days leading to Tuesday's election. Until Thursday, the candidates had refrained from direct attacks in television ads, the main vehicle for reaching voters in an L.A. mayoral race, even as they sniped in mailers and public forums. But Hahn, the city's first mayor in 32 years to face a serious threat of losing a run for reelection, decided to risk the potential voter fallout.

The double blast at Hertzberg and Villaraigosa reflects the difficult task Hahn faces in capturing enough votes Tuesday to win one of two spots in the expected May 17 runoff. A Times poll completed Sunday found the three locked in a statistical tie for the lead. Also in the race are City Councilman Bernard C. Parks and state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley), but polls have found neither likely to make the runoff.

For Hahn, the candidate posing the biggest strategic threat is Hertzberg, a Sherman Oaks lawyer who has emerged as the favorite of voting blocs once allied with Hahn — whites, San Fernando Valley residents, Republicans and Jewish voters.

By targeting Hertzberg and Villaraigosa simultaneously, Hahn appears to be trying to minimize the chance that voters who sour on Hertzberg might shun the mayor too and defect to Villaraigosa. But the dual hit also made Hahn the target of simultaneous televised responses from both opponents. Echoing the attack on Hahn is Parks, who went up with an ad Thursday saying he would "restore integrity to the mayor's office."

The late timing of the negative turn could limit its impact. By Thursday, the city clerk's office had received more than 67,000 ballots in the mail, and more were presumably en route. Fewer than 500,000 voters cast ballots in the April 2001 mayoral election.

Also, "buyer beware" is often the prevailing outlook of voters seeing an onslaught of TV ads the weekend before the election, said Allan Hoffenblum, a veteran Republican consultant. A negative ad can influence voters, he said, "but it has to be credible."

"They have to believe the source it's coming from," he said. "If last-minute attacks on a candidate are perceived as politics as usual, they're not totally ineffective, but they are less effective."

Regardless of who wins, I'm going to be a big supporter, as every citizen in the county of Los Angeles should be. If you remove the dirt and oil from the results of smear tactics, you're left with a group of candidates who might not be perfect, but have the potential to do some great things for the city and county. Contrary to the fact that many look at this as being a lose-lose-lose situation, I see win-win-win.

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