L.A. to Vote in Heated Mayoral Race

Voters in Los Angeles go to the polls Tuesday to choose a mayor after an acrimonious race between the incumbent James Hahn and city councilman Antonio Villaraigosa. This is a rematch of a runoff four years ago. University of Southern California political analysts Sherry Bebitch Jeffe discusses the heated campaign.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Voters in Los Angeles go to the polls tomorrow to choose a mayor. The nation's second-largest city is holding a run-off election. The incumbent is James Hahn. His challenger is a City Councilman, Antonio Villaraigosa. This is a rematch of a run-off from four years ago when Hahn won by a slim margin. The people following this race include Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at the University of Southern California, and she joins us, as she often does, to explain what's going on in California politics.

Good morning.

Ms. SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE (University of Southern California): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what's the difference between these two guys?

Ms. JEFFE: Well, that's a very good question. Not much in terms of issues. They're both liberal Democrats. They're both favorites of labor. The difference really is in style, in personality. The incumbent mayor, Jim Hahn, is kind of a--and I don't mean this as a negative--a green eye shade mayor. He's focused on details. He's focused on governance, if you will. Antonio Villaraigosa has a more charismatic personality. He is more outgoing, relates more to voters, and basically he's better at campaigning than Hahn is. But he doesn't take the details as closely as Hahn does, so voters have a choice between two candidates, neither of which are very far apart on the issues, but both of whom have a different style of leadership, a different style of governance, and different personalities.

INSKEEP: The lack of a big difference on the issues doesn't seem to have stopped people from spending a lot.

Ms. JEFFE: What's one got to do with the another, Steve? I mean...

INSKEEP: I don't know. I just--you know.

Ms. JEFFE: ...this is--yeah. I mean, this is a very significant political campaign, and what is going on here is a very high-spending campaign, and much of the money is being devoted to taking down the other candidate, because in the absence of any issue differences, this is a campaign run on character. This is a campaign in which each candidate wants to prove that he is better, not in the sense of policy, but in the sense of trust and ethics and leadership.

INSKEEP: Granted, as you see it, the candidates haven't really distinguished themselves on the issues. What are one or two things that they say, are extremely important that people in Los Angeles should be voting on?

Ms. JEFFE: This is ironic. Both of them are wringing their hands over the state of education in the city, and are pledging to be active in improving education, public education in the city. Well, the mayor has absolutely no control over education in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is the purview of an independently elected school board and the superintendent of schools, neither of whom are simply LA officials.

The second most visible issue is crime, law enforcement, public safety, if you will, and Jim Hahn, the incumbent mayor, is hitting Antonio Villaraigosa very hard on the fact that Villaraigosa (clears throat) used to be a director of the ACLU. While he was in the Legislature, he didn't support gang injunctions. Crime is down in the city. The mayor did appoint the very popular new police chief, Bill Bratton, formerly of New York.

And then there is a third issue, and that is the issue of trust. So the mud is flying very swiftly back and forth over the issue of campaign financing and ethics.

INSKEEP: Sherry Bebitch Jeffe is at the University of Southern California.

Thanks, as always.

Ms. JEFFE: My pleasure.

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