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McConnor's Corner

His Honor And The Chief
Posted by Sean McConnor on Mar 1, 2003 - 11:29:00 PM

Los Angeles City Hall. Jenna Skarzenski / Canyon News
LOS ANGELES — In what could be turning out to be the first case of Mayoral political suicide since the late Mayor Norris Poulson ran for re-election in 1961 against former Mayor Sam Yorty, the present Mayor James Hahn seems intent on fulfilling a political death wish, too. His Honor is betting his political fortunes on the success of newly installed LAPD Chief William Bratton.

If Bratton can turn the crime numbers downward in Los Angeles, the Mayor may have a chance in 2005 to be re-elected, even though the odds at present look slim because of the situation in South Central L.A., as one example. Hahn's base has eroded since he initiated the ouster of former African-American Police Chief Bernard Parks. To make matters worse, Parks is running for the City Council this year. If he wins, the Mayor cannot count on favors from Parks in the Mayoral race two years from now.

To complicate matters even more, Hahn's opponent in the last race for Mayor and for whom he defeated by a mere 40,000 votes, Antonio Vilgarogosa, is running against an ally of sorts of the Mayor, Nick Pacheo in the 14th Council District. However, intentional or not, Pacheo recently voted against the Chief's and the Police Commission (both Hahn appointees) during the heated debate on burglar alarm response. So, no matter, who wins on the 14th, the winner may smell political blood and chart his own course of events regardless of what Mayor Hahn does.

If that is not enough, there is trouble still brewing in the Valley for Hahn. A bastion of support for the Mayor in the last election, along with South Central L.A., is fading because of the Mayor's latest backtracking. His Honor, who opposed succession of the Valley, treated the secessionists like wayward brothers after they were defeated and promised new cooperation and a new agenda. He then quickly retreated citing budgetary constraints. He further alienated the homeowners by supporting the new LAPD policy on answering only verified burglar alarms.

Veteran political watchers remember the Mayoral election of 1969 in which former Mayor Yorty defeated the late Tom Bradley by 50,000 votes in one of the most racially divisive campaigns in city history. Bradley spent the next four years demonstrating to homeowners and public forums that he was not anti-police as Yorty alleged. He succeeded and trounced Yorty in 1973 winning majorities among all groups to become the first African-American Mayor.

Significantly reducing crime in the "murder capital of the U.S." is going to take time which Hahn and Bratton don't have. Rather than let former Chief Parks remain in office and have criticism of the rise in crime focus on him, the Mayor has picked his own police chief and put his prestige (and re-election) on the workings of the police department under a new leader.

Thus, so far the new Chief has managed to alienate pro-political and anti-crime supports of the Mayor with his stands on police pursuits and answering burglar alarms. The Chief says he has done so in the interest of public safety and a desire to shift the Department's focus on violent crime.

Bratton will further disrupt the other key constituency of the Mayor, African-Americans, if he attempts to win back the Mayor's conservative supporters by becoming too heavy-handed and adopting a "zero tolerance" policy like he had in New York City. If that happens, a moderating force, like Bernard Parks or Antonio Vilgarogosa, may come along, like Yorty did in 1961, and promise to control the police. The result was a one-term Mayor like Poulson who Yorty defeated.

In 2005 it could be deja vu all over again. Interesting enough, the Chief in 1961 who was the center of controversy was named William, too: William Parker. Decades later and too late, Parker became synonymous with progressive policing like Bratton is sometimes referred to as a promoter. However, the one-term Mayor, Norris Poulson, who supported the last progressive chief, William Parker, is all but forgotten in city history.


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