LOS ANGELES – Five days before the Los Angeles mayoral election, candidates including Mayor James Hahn (search) launched TV attack ads that were only expected to intensify leading up to Tuesday's vote.
Hahn, stalled in opinion polls, tried to tar his two main rivals and fellow Democrats as "Sacramento politicians" who pocketed cash from Enron Corp. while steering California toward an energy crisis.
City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa (search) responded within hours with a TV commercial that zeroed in on a corruption investigation at City Hall and asked, "Can we really trust Jim Hahn?"
Asked about Hahn's ad, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg said, "Desperate candidates do desperate things." He did not discuss the substance of the ad but said he returned $13,000 in Enron donations, most of it last week.
Villaraigosa served in Sacramento as Assembly speaker before Hertzberg, whose own response ad aired Thursday night — showing an enormous foot crushing a TV screen airing Hahn's commercial.
Hahn's attack on Villaraigosa and Hertzberg was expected. A Los Angeles Times poll this week found the three clustered together atop a field of 12 candidates, but also showed Hahn's support had flattened while Hertzberg's was climbing.
If — as expected — no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, the top two finishers will advance to a May 17 runoff.
Hahn has been drubbed by his rivals for months over the corruption probe, in which prosecutors are looking into whether city contracts were exchanged for campaign donations.
The mayor's ad alludes to letters written by Villaraigosa and Hertzberg requesting a pardon for a convicted drug trafficker, the same issue Hahn used against Villaraigosa in a 2001 runoff.
"I've said many times I made a mistake," Villaraigosa said outside City Hall. "Jim Hahn will do anything and say anything to get re-elected."
Hertzberg also called his letter a mistake.
Hahn's ad claims Hertzberg worked secretly with Enron to bail out the now-disgraced company, and it attacks Villaraigosa for supporting a deregulation proposal sought by Enron (search).
Hertzberg's campaign disputed the claim, saying he did not favor the company and worked routinely with consumer groups. Villaraigosa did not respond directly to the ad's claims about Enron, but said of Hahn, "He's throwing mud."
Houston-based Enron filed for bankruptcy protection after an accounting scandal came to light in December 2001. Several Enron officials have pleaded guilty to manipulating prices during the state's energy crisis.