Mayor James Hahn and Los Angeles councilmember Antonio Villaraigosa faced off for the first time since the primary election during a televised debate held in the University Student Union Grand Salon Monday.
The two candidates for the mayor’s seat discussed issues such as traffic, housing and the recent investigations in city hall.
The moderator for the telecast was Paul Moyer, NBC anchor. The three panelists for the debate were Raymond Mesa, anchor for Telemundo, Mariel Garza, columnist for the Daily News, and Salvador Hernandez, Daily Sundial editor in chief.
Moyer, who asked Hahn about the high dropout rates in Los Angeles public high schools, posed the first question. Moyer cited a recent Harvard study which termed several public school districts “dropout factor(ies).”
Hahn responded that students are more likely to go to college when they attend after-school programs, and that he plans to strengthen those programs. Hahn also said he would help inform low-income families, as well as immigrants, about the funding for college available to them to help them afford college.
Villaraigosa said it was unacceptable for the next mayor to claim that the problem of education is out of his jurisdiction.
“It is unacceptable to have a 53 percent dropout rate,” Villaraigosa said. “I am married to a teacher, and I can tell you, I know the trials and tribulations challenging teachers.”
Villaraigosa’s ideas to help solve the problems in education include having smaller classes and better teacher training. He also said that if elected, he will travel to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to get the funding to make public schools better.
Mesa asked if the candidates supported driver licenses for immigrants, and both said they do, because of public safety.
Hahn spoke about his experience as city attorney when addressing this issue.
“We want people who are out on the road already to prove they know how to drive,” he said.
Garza tackled the issue of traffic in Los Angeles.
Hahn said he hopes to enforce “no parking” laws during rush hour on main streets, give more resources to light rail trains, and improve lights at intersections, as well as avoid political gridlock.
“Getting stuck in traffic is more than just an inconvenience,” Villaraigosa said. “It keeps us away from our families, our jobs.”
This costs our economy $11 billion, Villaraigosa said.
“We do need to address the intersections, but not 25 of them,” he said. “We have 40,000 intersections in this city. We need reversible lanes, (and) we need to stop construction during rush hour.”
The key, Villaraigosa said, is having an expanded public transportation system. He said he will go to the capital to get the funds to do so.
The next question, posed by Hernandez, asked Villaraigosa why, if his top priorities are improving education and his wife is a public school teacher, does he send his children to private school.
Villaraigosa answered by saying he went to Catholic school as a child, has done a lot for public schools, and is endorsed by the United Teachers of Los Angeles and other educational leaders.
Moyer asked him again why he does not send his kids to public schools.
“I am Catholic,” he said. “One of the things that is very important to us is that our children learn their faith, and because of that, I’m very proud of the fact that our children are in Catholic school.”
Hahn said his children go to public school, and that Villaraigosa had said in the past that he did not want to “sacrifice” his children by sending them to public school.
Villaraigosa said he has supported the public school system and aided in providing funds for it.
Other questions dealt with immigration and the need for more police on the streets.
Hahn said he has helped put 400 police officers on the streets.
However, compared to the number of police officers when Hahn took office, only about 100 more police officers have been added to the LAPD. Early in Hahn’s term, the LAPD experienced a decline in police officers.
Villaraigosa said he could not promise to not raise taxes in order to increase the number of police, and Hahn held a similar position. Hahn said he would leave it up to the voters.
Another issue discussed was the rising cost of housing, which brought up the issue of the $100 million Housing Trust Fund Hahn set up to help finance affordable housing.
Villaraigosa said Hahn only gave $47 million of the promised $100 million. This under-funded program shows Hahn is not doing what is needed to help the issue, Villaraigosa said.
Moyer asked Villaraigosa if he believed Hahn’s administration was corrupt, based on the several investigations currently being made in city hall.
“This administration is one of the most investigated administrations in L.A. history,” Villaraigosa said. “I also believe there must be something to it. It is for the FBI and the U.S. attorney (general) to determine. I think the most important challenge for the next mayor of Los Angeles is to restore confidence and trust in our city leaders again. You’ve never seen my name associated with scandal.”
Hahn also commented on his public record.
“I’ve served over two decades in public life, and no one has ever shown that I did anything unethical, improper, or otherwise,” Hahn said. “If all you’ve got (are) innuendos and allegations, you don’t have corruption.”
The image problem of the LAPD was also discussed, as well as whether Villaraigosa will serve out his entire term as mayor, since he is leaving his position of councilmember early if he wins the mayoral seat.
Hahn said he sees leaving the position early as betraying the trust of the public.
Both candidates agree William Bratton is a good police chief for Los Angeles, and addressed the issue of Bernard Parks being fired four years ago.
“I gave Bernard Parks six months to show me what he could accomplish, but I was not satisfied,” Hahn said.
He said Villaraigosa told the public he wanted to both keep and get rid of Parks, so he was therefore not clear with the public.
The candidates then had an opportunity to ask each other questions.
Hahn wanted to know how Villaraigosa was going to get the funds for an increased public transportation system when there are both state and federal budget deficits.
“Steve Lopez says you don’t have a plan of action, but a hallucination,” Hahn said.
“Steve Lopez says a lot of things, including jokes about you as well,” Villaraigosa said. He also said Los Angeles does not receive its fair share of federal and state government funding, and said he would ask for it.
Villaraigosa confronted Hahn about the investigations surrounding his administration. Hahn reiterated that he has not done anything illegal.
Sylvia Snowitz, CSUN political science professor, said she didn’t learn anything new at the debate.
“It was not terribly informative,” she said. “But that seems to be the nature of this campaign.”
Olga Ayala, vice president of the CSUN Political Science Student Association and a senior political science major, said he was more excited after seeing the debate.
“They showed their true colors,” Ayala said. “You can see what Hahn and Villaraigosa have to offer to the city of L.A. Now it’s up to the voters to decide if they believe one or the other.”