LOS ANGELES – Overcoming corruption allegations at City Hall and his own drab image, Mayor James Hahn (search) survived a scare in his bid for a second term and advanced Wednesday to a runoff against the Hispanic councilman he beat four years ago.
Hahn and fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa (search) emerged as the top two vote-getters in Tuesday's election after a third candidate conceded on Wednesday. The two men will meet in a May 17 rematch of their bitter 2001 runoff.
Villaraigosa finished with 33 percent of the vote, followed by Hahn with 24 percent and former state Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who conceded after pulling in 22 percent. Candidates needed more than 50 percent to win the mayor's job outright and avoid the runoff.
Villaraigosa, 52, is a high school dropout and immigrant's son who rose from the barrio of East L.A. to the halls of power in Sacramento, where he was elected speaker of the California Assembly. He could become Los Angeles' first Hispanic mayor since 1872.
Hahn's family has been active in Los Angeles politics for decades; his father, Kenneth, was a beloved county supervisor. The 54-year-old mayor has won six straight races in the city dating to his days as controller in the early 1980s.
That includes the 2001 runoff in which he beat Villaraigosa after framing him as soft on crime for seeking a presidential pardon for a convicted drug trafficker. Hahn won with a coalition of black voters and moderate-to-conservative whites in the San Fernando Valley.
But Hahn saw his support among those voting blocs slip this time around, and he had to fend off attacks that he was too starchy and aloof to lead the nation's second-largest city. His opponents also hammered him over allegations that members of his administration traded city contracts for campaign donations.
Some experts said Hahn's weaknesses will give Villaraigosa the upper hand in the runoff.
"He can blame Hahn for every bad thing that's happened in Los Angeles since the last election," said John Pitney, a professor of political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.
A Los Angeles Times exit poll found that the corruption investigations by local and federal prosecutors appeared to make a difference in Hahn's second-place finish. Nearly half of voters surveyed said the allegations affected their choice; of those, a solid majority voted for a candidate other than Hahn.
Hahn led Hertzberg by about 6,000 votes, with nearly 24,000 absentee and other ballots remained uncounted Wednesday. But Hertzberg judged the gap too big to overcome and called the mayor to congratulate him.
The vote count took an unusually long time because of bad weather and problems with reading a new type of ballot. Evening fog forced organizers to abandon plans to use two helicopters to ferry returns to the city's downtown election center. Instead, a fleet of cars was deployed.
"I think the gloves are going to be off on both sides," said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. "You have two political careers on the line. Antonio doesn't want to be a two-time loser, and Hahn doesn't want to be the first mayoral candidate to lose in 30 years."