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Saturday, Jul 13, 2024


By HOWARD FINE Staff Reporter The next L.A. mayoral election may be more than two years away, but jockeying already has begun for the open seat. Even at this early stage, a top tier of three potential candidates has emerged: L.A. City Attorney James Hahn, state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (whose home district is just west of downtown L.A.), and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. At the top of the second tier of potential candidates eyeing the post are Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, and Westside real estate developer Steve Soboroff. “You say the election is two years out? It’s actually two years and 24 days,” quipped Soboroff last week, indicating his interest in the coming race even though he has not officially declared his candidacy (nor has anyone else). As each potential candidate tries to gauge his or her chances, calls are going out to potential supporters and consultants, names are being added to Rolodexes for future fund raising, and plenty of posturing is being done for the sake of local media. While the prospect of an open seat for mayor for only the second time in the last 25 years is responsible for the widespread interest, the unusually early jockeying is due to two factors: term limits and the ever-escalating costs of campaigning. “What we’re seeing here is the result of term limits,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College and a local political observer. “Everything has been sped up now, because everybody knows the mayor’s office is going to be vacant and they know that other officeholder terms are expiring, too. People have to plan ahead.” Without term limits, it is possible that highly popular Mayor Richard Riordan would have tried for a third term, which probably would have wiped the slate clean of major challengers, she said. Also, the fact that Villaraigosa and several council members are themselves facing term limits means that they, too, have to look for other offices to pursue. But it’s not just the game of musical chairs that has potential candidates lining up so early at the starting gates. It’s also about money. In 1993, the last open mayoral campaign, Riordan spent more than $2 million to win the seat. This time around, it might cost at least that much, if not more. “There’s no question that this race is going to cost a lot, certainly at least as much as the $2 million Riordan spent,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. “But it’s not just the cost. You also have campaign laws that limit you to $1,000 donations. Divide $2 million by $1,000, and that means an awful lot of hands to shake, which takes a lot more time. You can’t wait until the last minute and count on a few big donors.” Such a system makes it difficult for people with little name recognition to raise sufficient funds, which is one reason why independently wealthy candidates like Riordan and for that matter Soboroff have an advantage. Whatever their financial status, all the candidates will face a tough challenge to cobble a coalition capable of propelling them to office, according to local Republican political consultant Allan Hoffenblum. “Each candidate comes to the table with their own power base,” he said. “The candidate who is going to win is the one who is going to stitch together a plurality beyond his or her own base. That is the only way you can win in a city as diverse as Los Angeles.” Good marketing helps a great deal as well. James Hahn said he is talking to Bill Carrick the man who ran Riordan’s successful campaigns about running his campaign. “In politics, people tell you all the time, ‘Why didn’t you call me sooner?’ ” Hahn said. So far, Hahn is the only candidate who has definitely committed to run. Soboroff and Becerra said last week that they are strongly considering running, but have not made a final decision. Both have been talking to friends and consultants. Soboroff also has tried to raise his public profile, appearing on local television news shows and providing reams of information on himself to newspaper reporters working on profiles. Villaraigosa said he, too, is looking at running, but won’t make a final decision until later this year or early next year. “My viability as a mayoral candidate will be directly linked to how well I do my job now, which is why I am focusing 100 percent on fixing the state’s problems as speaker,” Villaraigosa said. Yet Villaraigosa has managed to make frequent appearances before L.A. audiences. He says that’s strictly part of his role as speaker, but local observers say many of the contacts he makes will no doubt come in handy once the campaign begins in earnest. Of all the major potential candidates, Yaroslavsky is the one who appears genuinely undecided about running. “I have not made any decisions yet,” he said last week. “Everybody has their own clock. If I were to be a candidate and I’m not saying I am I don’t believe I would need the lead time that some others might need. So while others might be spending breakfast, lunch and dinner raising funds, I don’t need to do that right now.” Besides the major contenders, political observers name several others who might run for mayor, including City Council members Laura Chick, Jackie Goldberg and Joel Wachs, Valley businessman David Fleming, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles, and state Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Van Nuys. “There’s a lot of excitement in this town right now about who could be our next mayor,” said Fabian Nu & #324;ez, political director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “I’m seeing people with a renewed interest in the city, and this field of very strong candidates is testimony to that.” One of the most critical factors in the race will be the ability to win the endorsement and “get-out-the-vote” power of the local unions. All of the first-tier candidates have deep ties to organized labor: Villaraigosa was a former union leader, Hahn has broad support from city employee unions, and Yaroslavsky and Becerra have spent years in office cultivating union ties. “It’s going to be very difficult for the unions to choose between these candidates,” Nu & #324;ez said. Of course, he noted, two years can be an eternity in politics. “Some of the people we are talking about now may ultimately drop out, while others could get in. That would change the odds for everybody considerably,” he said. For example, political observers note that if Yaroslavsky decides not to run, that could improve the odds for Soboroff and draw others, like Valley businessman Fleming, into the race. If Villaraigosa pulls out or encounters problems as speaker, then Becerra could move to the first tier of candidates or another Latino candidate, like county Supervisor Gloria Molina, could enter. “This is almost anybody’s race right now,” Jeffe said. “There simply isn’t a clear leader.”

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