A Valedictory for Villaraigosa

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New Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn applauds on election night

All the endorsements and all the political bigwigs were not enough to win this one for Villaraigosa. He had the Republican mayor endorse him, the Democratic governor and lieutenant governor, and the biggest county labor organization on his side. But the voters made up their own minds, and in the end, they decided that soft-spoken and efficient Jim Hahn would make a better mayor than the handsome and colorful Villaraigosa.

The big question is, what happened to the Hispanic vote? Turnout was apparently high in places like East L.A., where Villaraigosa grew up, and yet it wasn't enough to help him win. If a sizeable percentage of Latino voters ended up voting for Hahn, then that's really a tribute to Hahn's campaign. He took this election right out from under Villaraigosa's nose.

When in doubt, attack

It's not clear yet what impact Hahn's attack ads had on the campaign — in particular, one attacking Villaraigosa for lobbying for a presidential pardon of a convicted drug dealer. But the weeklong ad campaign was so pervasive that it would have been hard for anyone living in L.A. not to see them. Villaraigosa has already said he regrets writing the letter on behalf of the drug dealer's family, but he's probably even sorrier about it now.

Hahn took an early lead and never gave it up. Villaraigosa didn't come out until nearly 11:30 p.m., when he addressed his supporters at a street party in downtown L.A. in a voice that was so hoarse from campaigning that he could barely talk. He was still defiant. But less than an hour later, he conceded after it became clear that the late- arriving returns from far-out areas of the city like the San Fernando Valley would probably only increase Hahn's lead.

Villaraigosa's supporters in organized labor and the state Democratic Party said they'd give him a big push, and they lived up to their promise. Starting last weekend, more than 6,000 workers went out in force for Villaraigosa. On election day 3,200 workers went door-to-door to get their own union members to vote. They figured they had their support; they just needed to make sure they voted. One labor official told me it was the biggest get-out-the-vote effort in LA's history. But either some of those voters voted for Hahn, or he appealed to more people who didn't need to be convinced to vote.

The healing needs to begin

So, what does this mean for L.A.? Well, we already knew the next mayor of the city was going to be a Democrat. The only question was, which one? Now we know. Hahn, like Villaraigosa would have, will focus on issues such as crime (his favorite, since he's been a prosecutor for so many years), housing, education (as much as a mayor can), and even that old perennial problem here, traffic. But the first issue he should tackle is repairing his relationship with his own party. The state Democratic Party worked avidly against him, and as late as last night, before Villaraigosa conceded, party chairman Art Torres was blasting Hahn for running an underhanded campaign. These guys have some fence-mending to do.