Politics 2005: Week of April 4

Hahn Not Solo By the yardsticks of history and current polling, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn should be political toast in the May 17 runoff for mayor of America’s second-largest city. Only once in the history of the City of Angels has an incumbent mayor who was forced into a runoff (rather than winning outright in the first balloting) ever gone on to win re-election. Hahn not only was forced into a runoff, but actually trailed arch-nemesis and former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa by a margin of 33% to 24% in the initial mayoral vote last month. According to a just-completed Feldman Group poll, Villaraigosa–narrow loser to Hahn in a nasty runoff four years ago–leads the 54-year-old mayor 54% to 32%. With voters “leaning” to one candidate or another factored in, the poll showed Villaraigosa beating Hahn by 57% to 36%. Asked whether Hahn deserves re-election or someone else should be given a chance, the Feldman survey showed only 27% felt the mayor deserves another term and “someone else” got a whopping 64%. With the future appearing bleak in the nonpartisan race, Democrat Hahn has begun to get some help from unexpected sources–Republicans. Led by former State Republican Chairman Shawn Steel, GOPers have begun to weigh in for the embattled mayor. Among those raising money and actively campaigning for Hahn are former Assembly Republican Caucus Chairman Tony Strickland, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Los Angeles County GOP Chairman Linda Boyd, investments counselor and accountant Bruce Bialoski (a respected state party fund-raiser and leader among Jewish Republicans), and former Rep. (1980-86) Bobbi Fiedler (R.-Calif.), who first came to public attention as a leader in the anti-school busing movement during the 1970s. As to why these high-profile conservative Republicans would go the wall for lifelong Democrat Hahn, Steel told me: “Because Hahn is not an active Democrat and Villaraigosa will bring a blast of shrill, organized left-wing leadership to City Hall.” Steel, a conservative activist since his days as a teenage leader of Youth for Goldwater in 1964 and Youth for Reagan in ’66, pointed out that former Democratic Gov. (1998-2003) Gray Davis backed Villaraigosa over Hahn in the ’01 mayoral bout. Hahn returned the compliment during the successful recall movement against Davis in ’03 when, Steel recalled, “He never campaigned against the recall, nor said a single word in support of Davis.” Noting that “if Los Angeles were out of the political equation here, California might well be a red state,” Steel strongly hinted that a re-elected Hahn would do little to mobilize the city’s predominantly Democratic electorate. He added that Hahn “has not raised taxes and the crime rate has gone down since he has been mayor and brought in [former New York City Police Chief William] Bratton as chief of the LAPD.” To be sure, Republicans hold only two of the 15 seats on the City Council and comprise a mediocre 22% of registered voters in Los Angeles. “But in a low-turnout situation, that 22% could easily be 32% of the votes cast,” Steel told me, “So we may well be a major factor in the runoff.” Strength of Maryland Steele The tall, immaculately dressed African-American trailed by a bodyguard with an earphone was easy to recognize as he left Good Friday services at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., March 25. Michael Steele, Republican lieutenant governor of Maryland, is now the cause of some hope among state and national GOPers that he will run for the seat of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D.-Md.) next year. “Are you going to run for the Senate?” I asked Steele. He grinned and replied, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Asked if President Bush had urged him to run, the lieutenant governor said no, but quickly added, “I have talked to the folks at the White House [about the race].” Was he referring to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove? I inquired. “Yes,” Steele replied. That the Bush Administration was clearly encouraging the conservative Steele to run was no surprise. Days after Sarbanes surprisingly announced his retirement last month, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Elizabeth Dole (R.-N.C.) telephoned Steele and urged him to run. According to NRSC spokesman Brian Nick, “Mr. Steele told her he was keeping his options open.” Republicans have not had a U.S. senator from the Free State since liberal Charles MacMathias, who served from 1968-86. But the scenario of the survivor of a fractured Democratic Party running against a proven statewide winner such as Steele has given the GOP unusually high hopes of an upset next year. Former Rep. (1986-99) and NAACP head Kweisi Mfume has already declared for the Democratic nomination, and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a former Baltimore County executive, has unveiled an exploratory committee for the race. Others are expected to follow suit, notably Washington-area Rep. Christopher Von Hollen. Should Steele opt for re-election rather than the Senate race, there are several other GOP names mentioned for the Sarbanes seat: State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, who drew 36% of the vote against Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski last year; Harford County Executive Jim Harkins, a former state legislator with a law enforcement background; and Anne McCarthy, dean of the business school at Baltimore University, who is also a breast cancer survivor. But sources within national Republican circles told me that the party needs Steele and strongly suggested there would not be the maximum national funding for the Maryland race without him as the nominee. I thought of the reply of Republican National Chairman Meade Alcorn in 1955 to a reporter’s question about what would happen if President Dwight D. Eisenhower (who was then recovering from a heart attack) didn’t seek re-election the next year: “We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.” Return of ‘The Troublemaker’ The biggest story at the White House briefing room the afternoon of March 29 was not anything Press Secretary Scott McClellan said but the return of one of its most memorable personalities: Les Kinsolving, veteran Baltimore talk-radio host, whose long-winded questions have prompted President Bush to nickname him “The Troublemaker” and caused former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to devote a chapter to him in his new memoir, Taking Heat. Following a massive heart attack January 6, Kinsolving underwent triple bypass surgery and was absent from the press briefings until last week. Greeted with hugs and warm welcomes from fellow correspondents and a special greeting from McClellan in his opening statement, onetime Episcopal priest Kinsolving appeared thinner and somewhat pale. (He also wanted to me to thank “all of my fellow HUMAN EVENTS subscribers who responded to the news of my illness with hundreds of cards and letters.”) But as soon as he was called on, Kinsolving reverted to his old form. Referring to the recent summit between President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, he asked McClellan why Fox “would ask the President to tear down the fence on the border here, when eight other countries in the world have similar fences to keep people from entering illegally” and “since the President called the Arizona Minutemen ‘vigilantes,’ would he use similar terms to describe the neighborhood watch?'” Hayworth Out, Who’s In? Stalwart conservative Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R.-Ariz.) ended months of speculation recently with the announcement that he would seek re-election rather than challenge Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. Six-termer Hayworth (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 97%), known lately for his outspoken opposition to illegal immigration, was widely considered the strongest possible GOP foe to Napolitano. Now, most Republican eyes are on three-term conservative Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, a decorated Vietnam veteran as the likely GOP standard-bearer against Napolitano. Romley had previously hinted of his desire to run for Congress if Hayworth chose the gubernatorial race but is now reportedly exploring a statewide bid. Also considering a race for governor is former Gov. (1990-97) J. Fife Symington, who was convicted of bank and wire fraud but later had the sentence overturned. After being forced to leave the governorship because of his conviction, Symington took a gourmet cooking course and is now a much-praised pastry chef in Phoenix.