Hahn Begins TV Ads in Mayoral Race

Sunday, February 25, 2001

Hahn Begins TV Ads in Mayoral Race

By JAMES RAINEY, Times Staff Writer


Ratcheting up the expensive campaign to become the next mayor of Los Angeles, City Atty. James K. Hahn launched television ads Saturday that tout his two decades of public service and focus on issues such as domestic violence, gun control and thwarting street gangs.
The relatively early debut of Hahn’s ads marks an escalation on the airwaves in the mayor’s race, where only businessman Steve Soboroff had been airing spots. Soboroff’s commercials began running in late January.
Whereas Soboroff’s ads challenge the status quo and suggest the need for profound change at City Hall, Hahn’s two commercials reflect a strikingly different calculation about what Los Angeles voters want from their next mayor.
Hahn’s ads argue that the candidate has been able to make progress on important issues by working inside City Hall for 20 years, first as city controller and now as city attorney. Both spots end with the tag line: “Jim Hahn for mayor. L.A. experience that really counts.”
With a little more than six weeks to go before the April 10 election, the ads are expected to give Hahn a higher profile than other candidates. His campaign says it has bought more advertising time than Soboroff, though that was impossible to confirm Saturday.
Four other leading contenders in the race have smaller campaign treasuries, and it’s unclear when their television ads will begin.
In an introductory ad that the Hahn campaign calls “What Matters,” the candidate appears on screen in two photographs with his father, Kenneth Hahn, the late county supervisor who was one of the region’s best-known public figures.
Hahn tells voters during the 30-second spot that he “created one of the country’s most successful domestic violence units” in the city attorney’s office.
He also describes his support of a program in which volunteers help children get safely home from school. He says he would expand on that theme as mayor by keeping schools open longer so children have a safe haven.
The second ad, titled “What Counts,” presents Hahn as a man of action. It makes quick reference to the city attorney’s use of litigation to control street gangs, stop the marketing of tobacco to children and force stricter controls on gun sales.
It also describes an action Hahn took as city controller to help prevent a property tax increase.
Both ads suggest that Hahn was in the vanguard on those issues. The record suggests that he clearly was supportive and had successes in those fields, but that he sometimes acted in concert with others or after others took the lead.
In the field of school safety, for example, Hahn got the city to bring schools into a “Kid Watch” program similar to one created at campuses around USC. It was the university, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District that kicked off that pilot effort.
The second commercial says Hahn “stopped the tobacco companies from marketing their poison to our children.”
His role as city attorney, more specifically, was to have Los Angeles join a number of other cities and counties in a lawsuit that was credited with snuffing out the Joe Camel advertising campaign.
Similarly, on the gun issue, Hahn’s suit was filed to pressure gun makers to better control sales, but it followed litigation in a number of other cities. In his ad, Hahn says he “led a national charge to hold gun manufacturers liable for reckless gun sales.”
Hahn’s campaign aides said he deserves credit as a leader in the gun fight because an eventual settlement with Smith & Wesson, changing the way the company makes and markets guns, was based on the city attorney’s proposal.
As for the gang injunctions that Hahn touts as beginning a “legal assault against gang terror,” he generally has been given credit for giving police another tool to control street thugs. Some civil libertarians object to the injunctions as unduly restricting the constitutional right of people to associate.
Finally, Hahn’s second ad begins by saying that he “stopped the city from raising property taxes.” In 1983, the City Council killed a property tax proposal after Hahn and others warned that any gains could be offset by losses of tax revenue elsewhere. The city, instead, chose to raise other taxes, such as the one on utilities.
Although Hahn has been described as less than inspirational on the campaign circuit, the ads attempt to depict him as a dynamic leader: walking briskly with associates, talking animatedly with schoolchildren and senior citizens, and slamming his fist into his palm during an office negotiating session.
“I think what the Hahn campaign is trying to do right now is fill a void,” said Parke Skelton, campaign consultant to rival candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. “Voters have heard the Hahn name, but people on the street can’t tell you anything that he’s done in 20 years in office.”
The advertising skirmishes promise to grow more intense in the coming weeks, because the legal spending limit in the race has been eliminated. Soboroff announced last week that he had topped the $2.2-million limit, freeing all other candidates to do the same.
The action had long been predicted, and appears to have opened the door to a mayoral race that is likely to be the most expensive in city history.

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