WASHINGTON – Four years ago, James Hahn (search) was elected mayor with a debt to his surname — much like a Kennedy or a Bush.
His late father, Kenneth Hahn (search), was a revered county supervisor for nearly half a century, leaving behind one of the region's most devoted political followings.
So it's no surprise — nor coincidence — that the incumbent's full name will appear on the ballot in Tuesday's runoff election.
Struggling to keep his job, James Kenneth Hahn is hoping to overtake his challenger, City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa (search), by reconnecting with the core of his father's base — blacks in South Los Angeles.
This time, though, being a Hahn has been a burden and blessing.
"Having Kenny Hahn as our dad is a net gain overall," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the mayor's sister. "On the other side, there's the comparison factor. ... Those who would be critical of Jim love to say, 'Well, he's not Kenny.'"
Comparisons are inevitable. The notion that the mayor is an uneasy fit in his father's shoes comes up in ways subtle and stinging.
"I expected him to be like his dad and that didn't happen," basketball legend-turned-businessman Earvin "Magic" Johnson, a former Hahn supporter, said when he endorsed Villaraigosa last month.
"Jimmy Hahn is not Kenny Hahn," added U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, another Hahn defector.
Both candidates crisscrossed the political battleground of South Los Angeles on Sunday to woo black voters who could swing the election.
Villaraigosa told parishioners at Paradise Baptist Church that he would usher in a new era of cooperation between the city's diverse, and often competing, ethnic groups.
Hahn stuck close to crime issues as he addressed several thousand at the Faithful Central Bible Church. After alluding to scripture, Hahn said, "The first job of government is public safety."
The mayor owes his 2001 victory to strong support from the black vote in ethnically diverse South Los Angeles paired with moderate and conservative white voters in the San Fernando Valley.
But Hahn's standing in South L.A. was damaged in 2002 when he pushed for the ouster of the city's black police chief. Crime is down citywide under new Chief William Bratton (search), but analysts note the move broke up the political base the mayor inherited from his father.
Recent polls have shown him trailing Villaraigosa by double-digit margins.
The lasting imprint of Kenneth Hahn, who died in 1997, is enshrined across the city. The county government headquarters is named in his honor. There is a Kenneth Hahn rail station and Hahn Plaza, a shopping center in the predominantly black Watts neighborhood.
He also is credited with helping bring baseball's Dodgers to Los Angeles, and he is remembered as the only elected official to welcome Martin Luther King Jr. to the city in 1961.
"His father left a legacy," Earl Jones, 64, a security worker. The mayor "rode on his father's name."
Inheriting a name with political sizzle has advantages but capitalizing on it can be complex, some say.
William Lynch, a longtime adviser to Rep. Patrick Kennedy, said the Democratic congressman from Rhode Island has had to overcome an entrenched anti-Kennedy vote comprised largely of conservative Republicans.
"If he announced he had come up with a cure for cancer, 30 percent of the people would still vote against him" because of his name, said Lynch, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party.
In California, Hahn also must avoid being overshadowed by his father's reputation.
"As much as the Kenny Hahn legend helped him four years ago, it's hurt him this time," said Villaraigosa's campaign manager, Ace Smith. "People feel as if they were fooled."
In many ways, Hahn and his father are a study in contrasts.
The elder Hahn was in the mold of the late House Majority Leader Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, both garrulous Irishmen who knew all politics is local. He liked to drive his district to find potholes, knew how to get his face in a picture and would greet constituents in his pajamas if they dropped in on a weekend morning.
The mayor protects his privacy and seems uneasy in crowds — camera shy, yes, glib, no.
But Hahn's sister notes that he knows how to win elections. The mayor has never lost in six citywide races dating to the 1980s.
There may be differences in style, but "Jim's been an elected official for 25 years. He's a really smart politician in many ways, much like my dad," she said. "It was our family business."