Mayor's race in Los Angeles tests melting-pot politics

Los Angeles residents vote today in a mayoral race that may prove to be a true test of melting-pot politics.

In a city that is now almost half Latino, insurgent Antonio Villaraigosa lagged in the polls behind James Hahn, who appeared on the verge of piecing together victory from a voting bloc of African-Americans and moderate whites.

The nonpartisan race features two liberal Democrats who hold many of the same positions. Analysts say Hahn and Villaraigosa are so similar on issues that the outcome may turn on intangibles like personality.

Villaraigosa is a charismatic one-time high school dropout, an immigrant's son who rose to become speaker of the state Assembly. If elected he would be the city's first Latino mayor since 1872.

The more reserved Hahn is a member of a local political dynasty, a white man who grew up in largely black South Los Angeles and has served as city attorney for 16 years.

"I categorize it as Jim Hahn's experience versus Antonio Villaraigosa's passion," says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar at the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development. "It is Jim Hahn who represents the civic establishment of Los Angeles, versus Antonio Villaraigosa who represents the face of the future of Los Angeles."

Hahn came in five points behind Villaraigosa in the April 10 primary, but a Los Angeles Times poll a week before the election showed him seven points ahead of the former legislator.

The current mayor, Richard Riordan, is barred by term limits from running again.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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