Desmond Boles, American Renaissance, August 2001
Race, we are told, is a meaningless social construct. California, we are told, points the way to America’s happy, diverse future. But if the June mayoral race in Los Angeles is any indication, diversity only breathes new life into meaningless social constructs that seem to get more meaningful all the time. The contest was an odd one — a Hispanic backed by the city’s white/Jewish political machine ran against a white gentile backed by nearly 100 percent of the city’s blacks — but it had race, and the reality of race, written all over it.
The contest might not have been so racially charged if it had not come just after the March release of the 2000 census results. Hispanics gloried in reports that they were now 46.5 percent of the city, up from 39.3 percent in 1990. Whites were down to 29.8 percent from 37.5, and blacks dropped from 13.9 to 11.2. Asians held steady at just under 10 percent.
Blacks have felt the surge in Hispanics much more acutely than whites because they compete for the same low-skilled jobs. They also compete for low-rent apartments, which are increasingly filling up with Mexicans. Many blacks, who cannot afford to live on Los Angeles’ upscale West Side, have no choice but to leave, and since 1990, the city has lost more than 70,000 blacks. Some are moving to suburbs but many are part of a California exodus that is taking them back to the south. These days, even the city of Compton, the birthplace of “gangsta rap,” which used to be virtually all black, is 39 percent Hispanic.
Blacks and Hispanics do not get along. Blacks see Hispanics — whom they often call “beans” or “beaners” — as usurpers from another country, who cross the border to enjoy benefits blacks think only they deserve. Blacks consider manual labor beneath them, and mock Hispanics for doing it. In the ghettos, everyone wants to be a “player,” draped in gold and sporting a pager. Blacks tend to think of all Mexicans as stoop laborers and fruit pickers.
Hispanics counter that they went through great hardship to get to America, and have earned citizenship by working long hours at back-breaking jobs. They look down on black women for living on welfare and black men for abandoning their children.
Both groups think of themselves as superior to the other, and there is surprisingly little intermarriage. For each group, it is a social step down to mix with the other, while it is a step up to mix with whites. Traditionally, blacks have defined success as making it into the white world, and have spent years trying to secure access to white jobs, white schools, and white neighborhoods. They see no future in a Hispanic city.
When blacks and Hispanics make contact there is friction. Street gang killings have left many casualties on both sides, and school violence has been widespread. The 1970s busing craze drove most whites out of the L.A. schools, and throughout the 1980s, there were frequent black/Hispanic brawls, gang fights, and acts of individual violence. The warfare declined in the 1990s only as blacks fled the district, leaving it mostly Hispanic.
The changing demographics threaten what little hold blacks still have on Los Angeles politics. They have had a steady presence on the City Council, the Board of Supervisors, and the school board, but their political base is eroding as blacks move out and Hispanics move in. Voting patterns always seem to reflect meaningless social constructs.
Another striking difference between blacks and Hispanics is political style. Blacks specialize in loud, often violent political activism uncommon among Hispanics. In black areas the most revered figure is often the local Al Sharpton-type, who seems to hold no job other than professional protester. Any given block in a black neighborhood has an abundance of “community leaders,” able to whip up a demonstration in no time.
This is not true for Hispanics, especially Mexicans. Their neighborhoods are not full of “community leaders,” and most would be hard-pressed to name a single Mexican-American political icon other than Cesar Chavez. Vote-pandering whites who wanted to rename Los Angeles streets in honor of Mexican political heroes quickly ran out of candidates.
Hispanic writers and intellectuals have tried very hard to drum up protest-power, and the Los Angeles Times has given them the perfect platform. Its “Latino outreach program” has packed the paper with Hispanic columnists, reporters and editors, and now about half the by-lines in the Metro Section are Hispanic. The test case for Hispanic mobilization came last year, when a newly-elected school board prepared to remove Ruben Zacarias, the city’s first Hispanic school superintendent. Frank Del Olmo, a typical Times Hispanic, wrote there would be “holy war” if Mr. Zacarias got the boot, and threatened retaliation, warning that “Mexicans have long memories.” The only trouble was, ordinary Hispanics didn’t care. Sit-ins and protests at the school board flopped, drawing only a few dozen people.
In an ironic twist, black journalists attacked Hispanics for “divisive, racist” politics. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an L.A. institution and specialist in “black rage,” scolded Hispanics for injecting race into the important business of removing an incompetent. This black/Hispanic fight over who should run an overwhelmingly-Hispanic school district set the stage nicely for the mayor’s race.
Heartened by the new census data, Hispanics decided 2001 would be their year for a breakthrough. At 41 percent, registered Hispanic voters easily outnumbered the 34 percent that were white. The race would be a cakewalk.
The open primary included Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat and former speaker of the California State Assembly, and L.A. City Attorney James Hahn, also a Democrat. There was one no-hope Republican and a few other Democrats, but attention focused quickly on Mr. Villaraigosa and Mr. Hahn.
Despite his obvious appeal to the “social construct” vote, Mr. Villaraigosa had unpleasant baggage. He lobbied President Clinton to pardon cocaine-runner Carlos Vignall, arguing that a “racist” justice system had “railroaded” him. When first asked about this, he lied, owning up only when the proof was overwhelming. He had a string of illegitimate children, and spent ten years in a criminal gang (he had the gang tattoos surgically removed years ago). He had a 1.4 grade point average when he was expelled from high school, and was an Aztlan booster in college. Needless to say, he presented himself as a great success story who had turned his life around against daunting odds. The National Organization for Women endorsed him because he took his wife’s name when he finally married.
James Hahn, his most serious opponent, is the son of legendary city supervisor Kenneth Hahn, a political hero to liberals and blacks. Known as “Daddy” Hahn, he was famous for staying in South L.A. after it turned black in the 1960s. He was a leader in the “civil rights” movement and did plenty of favors for blacks. He sent young Jimmy to public school, where he admits he was taunted and beaten up for being white. He now says this “sensitized” him to the plight of minorities. James went into politics in his father’s footsteps, and was City Controller under black mayor Tom Bradley. From the beginning he took a strong position in favor of law and order — the only political stance that distinguished him from his opponent.
Mr. Villaraigosa won the primary, with Mr. Hahn the only other candidate to do well enough to make it into a runoff. The lines were now drawn, with Hispanics convinced their day of glory had come. Gregory Rodriguez gloated in the Times that a Villaraigosa victory was a “historic inevitability,” and that this would usher in “a new political era” of “ethnic ascendance.” R. Venable de Rodriguez (no relation), also in the Times, wrote that California would be swallowed up by Mexico: “The idea of an active reconquest of Mexican territory is in the air. But the reality of cultural re-absorption already renders it a foregone conclusion.”
More endorsements piled up, as organizations looked at the census data. Although both candidates were Democrats, the party endorsed only Mr. Villaraigosa, as did Senator Barbara Boxer, Governor Gray Davis, the Sierra Club, outgoing mayor Richard Riordan, and practically every Hispanic office holder in southern California. In its own endorsement, the Times coyly referred to their candidate’s old gangs as “clubs.”
Even L.A.’s Jewish kingmakers Eli Broad and Robert Burkle, who had been Mayor Richard Riordan’s main backers, endorsed Mr. Villaraigosa. The city’s Jewish community had made the difference 30 years ago when Tom Bradley was elected mayor. Back then, blacks were the “wave of the future,” and now the money elite sensed another change. (The Republican Mr. Riordan disagrees with just about everything Mr. Villaraigosa stands for. His endorsement made more sense after he announced he might run for governor — a campaign that would certainly require the support of Messrs. Broad and Burkle.)
Mr. Villaraigosa even got the endorsement of one prominent black, though this was a story about money rather than rainbow coalitions. Genethia Hayes was elected president of the L.A. School Board in 1999 on a campaign to fight bilingual education and other liberal reforms — and with money from Mr. Riordan’s Jewish backers. One might have expected a black school board president to oppose a Hispanic who sends his children to private school because he would not “risk” sending them to her schools, but Miss Hayes appears to have let the money do the talking.
The message was clear: The L.A. political machine saw a brown future, and wanted to back the winning team. The party and its war chest lined up behind Mr. Villaraigosa, who was now outspending Mr. Hahn nearly five-to-one. As young blacks in the street put it, “the machine wants a bean.”
If whites have had racial consciousness beaten out of them, blacks have not, and the fawning over Mr. Villaraigosa was like a red rag to a bull. Blacks lined up behind Mr. Hahn in a way that dwarfed their support for any black candidate for the past 20 years. Nearly every local black politician and personality, from Congresswoman Maxine Waters to Magic Johnson to the widow of Tom Bradley stumped for Mr. Hahn. Every soul-food restaurant was festooned with Hahn placards. Black support for Mr. Hahn was not new, but its urgency showed how important this election was. For many blacks, this seemed like the last chance to have a political presence in city hall, if only by proxy.
This was not the first political fight between blacks and Hispanics. Blacks overwhelmingly supported Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative to prevent illegals from getting government benefits, as well as the more recent initiative to do away with bilingual education, but never had racial division been so clear.
Naturally, Hispanics at the Times blasted blacks for “racial divisiveness.” Columnist Steve Lopez wrote that blacks “prefer a dead white man to a living Mexican” (a reference to Mr. Hahn’s late father). Not one Times columnist or contributor endorsed Mr. Hahn.
He did win the support of one racial group with few votes but plenty of money: California Indians. Mr. Villaraigosa fervently believes illegal immigrants have the right to live off taxpayer largesse but condemns tribes that want to support themselves by building casinos. Angry tribal leaders funneled more than $100,000 into the Hahn campaign.
For Mr. Villaraigosa’s supporters, though, there was so little to worry about they spent the first few weeks after the primary planning victory parties. The math was simple: Mr. Hahn could win 100 percent of the black vote and even every conservative-to-moderate white; there were still enough Hispanics to put their man over the top. It didn’t seem to matter that the Times’ claque of hired Hispanics were not very enthusiastic about him. Steve Lopez complained he was not radical enough. Gregory Rodriguez said he was not centrist enough. Frank Del Olmo said he was a weak candidate. Yet all these men supported Mr. Villaraigosa and urged all Hispanics to do the same. It was Ruben Zacarias all over again; race trumps ability.
Mr. Villaraigosa carefully wove ethnicity into his campaign. His slogan was Si Se Puede (“Yes We Can”), and there was Mariachi music before every stump speech. Mr. Hahn never mentioned race, but he hit hard at the Vignall pardon and Mr. Villaraigosa’s record on crime (in the assembly he opposed harsher penalties for child molesters and kiddie-pornographers). He also turned Mr. Villaraigosa’s huge war chest and endless endorsements against him, portraying himself as David against Goliath.
A week before the election, polls showed Mr. Hahn with as much as a 10 percent lead. More than a quarter of Hispanic voters were saying they would vote for Mr. Hahn, usually citing his tough stand on crime. The Villaraigosa camp panicked, and tried desperately to woo non-Hispanics. The candidate spent hours at Jewish delis and festivals, and said that although he was raised a Catholic he prefers Judaism. He also ginned up a new set of campaign flyers. One was for retired whites (“Villaraigosa will keep seniors safe”), and another, featuring a cuddly dog and cat, targeted animal-rights activists (“Villaraigosa: the animal-friendly candidate”). He even imported a black supporter from Harvard, Cornell West, who stayed by his side for the last week. Most blacks I talked to thought Prof. West was a pathetic sell-out.
Mr. Villaraigosa’s attempt to woo blacks was not helped by events in the last days of the campaign. Some time before, a Hispanic had kidnapped, tortured and shot a black named Anthony Lewis because he mistakenly thought Mr. Lewis was dating a Hispanic. The gunman fled in a stolen bus and his flight, captured live on television, ended only when he crashed into a SUV, killing the Hispanic driver. Mr. Lewis, who survived the shooting, got out of hospital just a few days before the election. His media interviews, which were the top story on most newscasts, hardly improved black/Hispanic relations. About the same time, locals at a Mexican bar murdered a black tourist.
This was all perfect timing for Mr. Hahn, who spent the last Sunday before the election at an all-black church, speaking to roaring crowds while the choir sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Mr. Villaraigosa spent the day at the Valley Jewish Fair. He told the media to ignore the polls; he had a silent army of 5,000 Hispanic activists who would shuttle supporters to voting stations.
He shouldn’t have been so smug. He lost the election, 46 percent to 53 percent, a margin of 40,000 votes. Mr. Villaraigosa got almost exactly 80 percent of the Hispanic vote, but most Hispanics stayed home. Of 600,000 eligibles only 130,000 turned out. So much for “ethnic ascendancy” — at least for now. Mr. Hahn got essentially all the black vote, 65 percent of the Asian vote, and about 60 percent of the white vote. The Jewish vote split about 50:50 with older, more conservative Jews voting for Mr. Hahn, and younger liberals for Mr. Villaraigosa. It was white turnout that tipped the balance for Mr. Hahn. Whites were only 34 percent of the registered voters but cast 52 percent of the votes. If only ten percent more Hispanics had bothered to vote, Mr. Villaraigosa would have won.
There was predictable outrage from Hispanic activists — but not at their brethren for staying home. Mr. Hahn won through “prejudice and bigotry,” wrote David Ayon in the Times,although the only example he could give was that Mr. Hahn dared to ask Mr. Villaraigosa “why he didn’t support tough laws against gang violence.” Frank Del Olmo, who had threatened reprisals when Ruben Zacarias was fired, bemoaned Mr. Villaraigosa’s “failure to make history,” but suggested he should run the school system. “The L.A. Unified School District is already a disaster area,” he wrote, “so Villaraigosa couldn’t be blamed for making it any worse.” Mr. Del Olmo doesn’t appear to care about qualifications; only about making sure Hispanics get the top jobs.
The long-term expectations of the Villaraigosa camp were perhaps best expressed in an op-ed piece in The New York Times by Harold Meyerson, executive editor of L.A. Weekly, the city’s largest-circulation free weekly that makes the L.A. Times look conservative. “For now, the future is on hold,” he wrote. Mr. Hahn had managed to “defer what looked to be L.A.’s destiny,” and win “one last victory for the old Los Angeles.”
It may be tempting to agree that this is the “last victory” before Hispanics take over. However, Californians have voted to end affirmative action, bilingual education, and handouts to illegals, despite constant pummeling by multiculturalists. This time, in ultra-liberal L.A., voters were told that absorption by Mexico was an inevitability and that they should vote in a Hispanic. They didn’t buy it. Another lesson is that as a practical matter, blacks may make good allies in the fight to stop immigration. If we have blacks allies it makes it harder for Hispanic activists to call us “white supremacists.” Finally, the combination of high white and low Hispanic voter turnout suggests that, for the time being, demography is not destiny. It is still possible, through the ballot box, to help determine the future of our country.