Thursday, March 10, 2005

LA Times, Yet Again A Weak Sister, Fails To Immediately Endorse Villaraigosa In The Mayoral Runoff

The runoff campaign between Mayor James Hahn and City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa is most likely going to be a close, hard-fought affair, and it is disconcerting, to say the least, that in its first editorials since the primary election, the L.A. Times has failed to follow up its endorsement of Villaraigosa (and the third-running Bob Hertzberg) in the primary with an endorsement of Villaraigosa in the final.

Once more, it seems like Michael Kinsley is proving to be a weak sister. As his battle with Susan Estrich tends to show, Kinsley is not a real liberal but an ersatz liberal. In the Estrich affair, she may have hinted at blackmail in coming after him so hard for a column, but the fact is he was not ready to add more women to the Op-Ed page. Just as in the presidential campaign when he lambasted President George W. Bush, only to refuse an endorsement of Sen. John Kerry, Kinsley thus repeatedly shows a persistent unwillingness to (1) make up his mind decisively to follow through with his supposed liberalism, and (2) keep it made up.

This has to be alarming for Villaraigosa, because he is going to need The Times influence to stay ahead of Hahn. His edge the last time in the primary was 30% to 25 and he lost to Hahn 54% to 46. Now, he's ahead by a little more, 33% to 24, but this does not guarantee him victory. Last time, 2001, there was a 14% swing toward Hahn between the primary and the runoff. A 14% swing this time would put Hahn back in the lead again.

There is also some sign that Villaraigosa is not as persistent as Tom Bradley was, in his second go-around in 1973 against Sam Yorty, in chasing after the white vote. Villaraigosa, just like Bradley, cannot afford to be a shrinking violet.

Between the time I returned from Antarctica last Friday, March 4, and turned my telephone back on, and the election, I received four calls at my home urging me to vote for Hahn, three calls urging me to vote for Hertzberg, and zero calls for Villaraigosa. This after I had voted for Villaraigosa by absentee. I am a registered Republican. I got one Republican call for Hahn.

Villaraigosa must not in the runoff give up on votes like mine, even if, as I totally expect, the Hahn folks try to turn the runoff into another white man's race against a minority candidate, stressing the telltale racist issue of accusing Villaraigosa of being soft on crime.

Make no mistake about it: A key issue in this election will be whether the Los Angeles electorate will be able to overcome its prior resistance to electing a Latino candidate mayor, just as a third of a century ago, a key issue was whether it could (which then it did) overcome its resistance to electing a black mayor.

Yet The Times analysis article beginning on Page 1 of the A section today, March 10, by Matea Gold, scarcely even mentions, and then, only far down, that Villaraigosa is Latino. I can guarantee you that out-of-town political writers at the New York Times and Washington Post won't make such a mistake, since Villaraigosa's ethnicity is going to be so important in determining the outcome of this election, even if Hahn is a weak mayor. In fact, I notice that the New York Times article on the outcome of the primary, by John Broder, in the very first paragraph calls Villaraigosa a "charismatic Latino." I suspect that Gold at the LAT, who speaks Spanish and has much experience on the East Side, might have done the same, but was reined in by the always politically correct editors who dominate the political desk.

Under Tribune ownership, the l.A. Times is having a tough time summoning up much courage on local issues. Despite his initial conclusion that Hahn should not be reelected, and that Villaraigosa should make the runoff, Kinsley now appears to be waffling, perhaps on the advice of John Carroll, who has little sense of California politics, or their ultimate masters at the Chicago Tribune Co., who as Chicagoans may not have the stomach to back a non-white candidate.

I endorsed Villaraigosa myself Feb. 5, because I felt Los Angeles needed a more intelligent, dynamic mayor. I see no reason to change my opinion and hereby endorse him again. The runoff is going to be a test of his skills, but also of the fortitude of the Los Angeles Times.

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