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Forum LockedL.A. expected to pick first modern Mexican-Am. mayor

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    Posted: 17-May-2005 at 19:59


By Jill Serjeant
Tue May 17, 4:43 PM ET



LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - America's second largest city was expected to elect its first Latino mayor in over a century on Tuesday in a vote demonstrating the influence of the nation's growing Hispanic population.

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Antonio Villaraigosa, 52, the son of Mexican immigrants, went into election day commanding a lead of about 11 percentage points over incumbent Mayor James Hahn, 54, after a campaign marked by shifting ethnic alliances in multicultural Los Angeles.

The election is a rematch of a bitter 2001 runoff in which Hahn, a pragmatic political veteran, narrowly beat his charismatic opponent. Both men are Democrats and have few policy differences.

Despite frenetic campaigning and the attention the 2005 race has drawn for its cultural implications, officials expect only about one-third of the city's electorate to vote. First results are expected after 9 p.m PDT (midnight EDT/0400 GMT Wednesday).

Latinos are the largest ethnic group in Los Angeles, making up some 47 percent of the city's 3.7 million population. Whites make up 30 percent, African-Americans 11 percent and Asians about 10 percent.

Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at the University of California Irvine, said the Los Angeles mayoral race was "an important demonstration of the Latino population's steady growth in the United States."

But Villaraigosa, who is more fluent in English than Spanish, has underplayed the Latino card, recognizing the need for cross-cultural support and in deference to lingering unease among many in the city about its shifting demographics.

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"He can't afford to alienate anybody. He can't afford to run as a Mexican-American," said Oscar Garza, editor in chief of the city magazine Tu Ciudad (Your City).

If elected, Villaraigosa would be the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles since Cristobal Aguilar in 1872 when the city was emerging from its days as a Mexican settlement.

"Since the beginning, I've said, yes, I'm going to be the first but the responsibility of the first is to be mayor for everyone," Villaraigosa told reporters on the eve of the ballot.

Villaraigosa, a high school dropout raised in east Los Angeles by a single mother, has worked hard to build alliances with the African-Americans, who were furious at Hahn's ouster in 2001 of the city's black police chief Bernard Parks.

Hahn, who is white but who grew up in south Los Angeles, had previously enjoyed black support thanks largely to his popular late father Kenneth Hahn, who represented the community as county supervisors in the 1960s.

Hahn has also suffered politically from his opposition to an ultimately failed bid for secession by Los Angeles' sprawling San Fernando Valley. His administration is also under investigation for corruption at City Hall although Hahn has never been charged.

Gray-haired Hahn cites falling crime as his major achievement, but he appears lackluster compared to the energetic Villaraigosa, who kicked off election day with a 3 a.m. visit to legendary Pink's Hot Dog stand in Hollywood.

"Maybe I have a charisma deficit disorder," Hahn joked as he cast his vote on Tuesday. "But I think people want substance rather than style."
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