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James Hahn, Ron Kaye butt heads (gently) at L.A. Chamber event

September 25, 2008 | 12:07 pm

Former_mayor_james_hahn The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce did the impossible on Thursday, filling a room full with people interested in learning about the Los Angeles City Charter. Sounds tedious, right?

But people just might have shown up to see some fireworks between former Mayor James Hahn and  Ron Kaye, former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, which was loudly anti-Hahn during Kaye’s regime. Hahn and Kaye (now a blogger) were even seated side by side.

Sadly for the audience, things mostly stayed civil. Hahn, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and the other panelists argued that the 1999 City Charter -– which created neighborhood councils, regional planning commissions and new powers for the mayor -– had made things better. Kaye, serving as the boisterous counterweight, said Los Angeles city government is inherently broken.

Always more of a politician than Hahn, Kaye worked the populist themes that he had embraced for years, describing city government as systemically corrupt, former Mayor Richard Riordan as “a terrible elitst” and Los Angeles as a place where the powerful have locked the citizenry out of power. “The city has never had democratic institutions in its whole history,” said Kaye, adding: “It’s been ruled by narrow elites from Day One.”

That was too much for Hahn, who rolled his eyes and audibly groaned. “We haven’t had democratic institutions in the city of Los Angeles?” he asked, incredulous.

After staying quiet a few more minutes, Hahn spoke up: “I think I’m a living example of how democracy works. I was denied a second term,” said Hahn, who was swept out of office by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2005. “If we didn’t have democracy, I probably wouldn’t be on this panel.”

--David Zahniser

Photo: Lori Sheppler / Los Angeles Times