LOS ANGELES – The two candidates for mayor clashed repeatedly Sunday over integrity and public safety in a televised debate, hoping to sway undecided voters a month before the election.
Mayor James Hahn (search) depicted challenger Antonio Villaraigosa (search) as a do-nothing city councilman and former Assembly speaker too inconsistent on critical issues to lead the nation's second-largest city. Villaraigosa said the city was withering because of a corruption investigation involving allegations that administration officials traded city contracts for campaign donations.
"I don't believe we can afford four more years of corruption probes and stagnation," Villaraigosa said. "I think we can elect a mayor that we can have trust and confidence in."
Hahn took a similar tack, saying, "This is an election about trust."
"You've got to decide, do you want a fancy smile and a fancy suit, or do you want somebody who every day rolls up their sleeves and gets stuff done in this city?" Hahn said. "That's what I've been about."
The incumbent, 54, came into the debate needing to turn around polls showing him trailing Villaraigosa by a double-digit margin. He made the case that Villaraigosa, 52, had wavered on such issues as the use of court injunctions to break up gangs and funding for police officers — matters too critical for indecisiveness.
Hahn referenced the city's falling crime rate repeatedly. He pointed out that he recruited a new police chief in 2002, William Bratton (search), even though denying a second term to his predecessor, Bernard Parks, hurt him politically.
"You can't go to court against the gang injunctions ... and then say gang injunctions are a good idea," Hahn said, referring to Villaraigosa's opposition to injunctions when he headed the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (search). "It's got to be more than rhetoric, folks."
Villaraigosa said the streets are not as safe as Hahn suggests. He faulted Hahn repeatedly for not delivering on a promise to hire 1,000 more officers. And he asked Hahn to disclose the contents of his office e-mails that have been subpoenaed by prosecutors as part of the corruption investigation at City Hall.
"There is not a lot in my e-mails," Hahn said.
"There is not a lot in your administration," Villaraigosa snapped.
At another point, Hahn defended his record, saying, "Nobody has lived up to a higher ethical standard through his political career than I have."
A Los Angeles Times poll last week showed Villaraigosa holding an 18-point edge, and he has been raising $3 for every $2 going to Hahn for the general election.