LOS ANGELES — City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa and Mayor James Kenneth Hahn will once again go head-to-head in the race for mayor of the nation’s second largest city in a runoff election May 17.

In 2001, Hahn barely edged out Villaraigosa in a bitterly contested race. In this year’s primary, Villaraigosa led the field with 33 percent of the vote and Hahn came in second with almost 24 percent. The most significant factor in the March 8 primary, however, was the overwhelming pro-labor, progressive nature of the voters. Ninety-five percent of the votes went to well-known Democrats.

Hahn has the endorsement of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which in 2001 backed Villaraigosa. The mayor has done just about everything labor has asked by actively supporting major strikes and organizing drives, appointing labor leaders and supporters to crucial boards, as well as supporting a living wage, opposing sweatshop products for city contracts, blocking Wal-Mart, criticizing the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq, and opposing the closure of King /Drew Hospital trauma center.

Villaraigosa has taken the same stands, but lacks the advantage of being the incumbent. Nonetheless, he enjoyed a 35 percent to 27 percent lead over Hahn among union voters, despite the LA Federation’s endorsement. A lifelong labor activist, organizer and leader in the Assembly as well as the city council, Villaraigosa has strong credentials. He was also national vice chairman of John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

Villaraigosa is now in a slightly stronger position than in 2001 to become the first Mexican American mayor of Los Angeles since 1872. He increased his primary election lead from 30 to 33 percent, with notable gains in the African American community and the more suburban San Fernando Valley, according to a Los Angeles Times poll.

Villaraigosa captured an overwhelming majority of the Latino vote. Latinos made up 46.5 percent of the city’s population in the 2000 census, and now stands at more than 50 percent. However, the Latino share of the city’s registered voters is about 23 percent due to the non-voting, immigrant status of many Latino workers.

The May 17 election is up for grabs. Historically, voter turnout for final elections is larger than for primaries. The primary turnout was only 26 percent. A large Latino turnout for Villaraigosa can be expected with the Mexican American and Latino communities’ strong desire for equal representation.

The attacks on public workers and services by President Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could play a major role in the May 17 election. Hahn can be expected to draw a larger proportion of the Republican and conservative vote than Villaraigosa. If Villaraigosa seeks to fill the conservative void, he risks losing his appeal to rank-and-file and unorganized workers.

In the last mayor’s race Hahn carried a significant portion of the African American vote due to the legacy of his father, a white New Deal populist, who represented large African American constituencies in city and county offices for nearly half a century.

But that support is at risk after the recent police killing of Devin Brown, a 13-year-old Black youth. As mayor, Hahn refused to reappoint African American Bernard Parks — another mayoral candidate in the primary — as police chief. Instead he appointed William Bratton, who is white and led the New York City Police Department under Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Parks received 54 percent of the Black vote in the primary, Hahn got 23 percent and Villaraigosa, 15 percent.

In 2001, the majority of working-class, Latino and Black voters helped push the city’s politics in a progressive direction but the same may not happen this year if the campaign is dominated by negative attack ads.

rosalio_munoz @ sbcglobal.net