LOS ANGELES(Reuters)–Career politician James Hahn won the Los Angeles mayor’s race early on Wednesday as a letter written by opponent Antonio Villaraigosa five years ago to help a convicted drug dealer came back to doom his chances of becoming the city’s first Latino mayor in 129 years.
Villaraigosa conceded to Hahn–currently the Los Angeles City Attorney–at about 12:30 a.m. PDT as he trailed him by 54 to 46 percent with 68 percent of the city’s precincts reporting.
Many political observers said Hahn–50–not only forged a successful coalition of blacks and conservative whites but he also found a way to dramatically exploit a 1996 letter Villaraigosa wrote to President Bill Clinton seeking a pardon for a convicted drug dealer–Carlos Vignali.
The letter claimed wrongly that Vignali was falsely accused and had no criminal record. Villaraigosa–48–called the letter a mistake–saying he listened to his heart rather than his head because Vignali’s father was a friend and financial supporter.
Hahn ran a television ad showing a grainy picture of Villaraigosa and a smoking crack pipe–while an off-stage voice warned Los Angeles that Villaraigosa could not be trusted.
Villaraigosa hit back angrily–accusing Hahn of “trying to create a climate of fear” and going “beyond the pale.” But a backlash against the negative ad never materialized and while he captured an estimated 80 percent of the city’s Latino vote – it was not enough.
With campaign supporters expressing bitterness–Villaraigosa conceded defeat to Hahn and promised to work closely with him. Hahn in his victory statement praised Villaraigosa as a game competitor.
“Let me begin by congratulating Jim Hahn. Jim–I look forward to working with you for this great city,’ Villaraigosa said.
“I love LA,” Hahn declared as he promised “to keep this city together.”