Hahn Coalition Breakup and Villaraigosa's L.A. Win

Philip Bruce reports on Antonio Villaraigosa's victory in the Los Angeles mayor's race. Many observers believe Villaraigosa won in part because incumbent Mayor James Hahn couldn't hold together the coalition that elected him four years ago.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The last time Los Angeles had a Latino mayor, Ulysses S. Grant was president. That was 133 years ago. Today there is another. Los Angeles voters gave City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa a landslide victory over incumbent Mayor James Hahn yesterday. It was a bitter rematch for two candidates who often made it clear they didn't like each other. As NPR's Philip Bruce reports, Villaraigosa won by bringing together voters who have rarely agreed on anything.

(Soundbite of mariachi music)

PHILIP BRUCE reporting:

Mariachis, klezmer musicians and gospel singers entertained thousands of supporters at last night's street party for LA City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa. Raised by a single mom on the rough side of town, Villaraigosa told the crowd he hasn't forgotten where he came from.

Mayor-elect ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles): I stand here today because people believed in me. And I...

(Soundbite of cheers)

Mayor-elect VILLARAIGOSA: ...want you to know that I believe in you as well.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

BRUCE: Villaraigosa easily swept past the incumbent Mayor James Hahn, drawing far more white voters from the Valley, black voters from South LA and overwhelming numbers in the Latino community. Basketball icon Magic Johnson told the crowd that Villaraigosa will serve every part of that historic coalition and more.

Mr. ERVIN "MAGIC" JOHNSON (Former Basketball Star): And he's going to make sure that all of us will have a voice, and our voices will be heard because he is a man of the people.

(Soundbite of cheers)

BRUCE: While Villaraigosa easily connected with voters, Hahn had trouble reaching out. During the campaign Hahn made light of his low-key style and joked with reporters that he suffered from charismatic deficiency disorder.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) ...there'll be pennies from heaven for you...

BRUCE: Hahn's election-night party was equally low key. A few hundred supporters listened to jazz music at a Hollywood club, and the lyrics of one tune seemed to sum up the campaign's mood.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing): You'll find your fortunes falling all over town. Just be sure that your umbrella is...

BRUCE: Despite the lopsided returns, Hahn did show up to shake hands with supporters. On stage, he refused to concede the race and chose instead to list his achievements.

Mayor JAMES HAHN (Los Angeles): Look where we are today.

(Soundbite of cheering applause)

Mayor HAHN: This city is so much better off. We have turned the corner on crime; violent crime, down 37 percent over the last two years.

BRUCE: Hahn said there was job growth, expanded after-school programs and a boom in housing construction.

Orlando Ward, an LA homeless activist, said he wished that Hahn had walked up his achievements more during the campaign, so voters could have gotten a picture of the real man.

Mr. ORLANDO WARD (Homeless Activist): In a political campaign, particularly in an area so infatuated by Hollywood, you got to have a little more glitz and glamor to get people excited.

BRUCE: Villaraigosa does have the glitz, says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, political science professor at USC. She says his unseating of the incumbent, along with being LA's first Latino mayor in more than 100 years, catapults Villaraigosa into the center of the national political scene.

Professor SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE (University of Southern California): He's been around national politics at the edges, but this one really does put the spotlight on him. And it does mean something to Latinos across the country as well as to Latinos in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Villaraigosa, Villaraigosa...

BRUCE: As he did throughout the campaign, Villaraigosa chose to highlight his message of inclusiveness over his Latino heritage as he addressed his election-night supporters.

Mayor-elect VILLARAIGOSA: Our purpose is to bring this great city together.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

Mayor-elect VILLARAIGOSA: Our purpose is to make a difference.

BRUCE: Villaraigosa has four years to get to work on that purpose, which he says includes reducing gang violence, improving local schools and easing the city's always horrible traffic congestion. Philip Bruce, NPR News, Los Angeles.

BRAND: And NPR's Carrie Kahn did much of the field reporting for that piece.

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