Now the race picks up *

Mayor Jim HahnBy one media measure, the contest between Jim Hahn and his pursuers to finish first or second on March 8 kicks into higher gear today. After weeks of mostly event coverage by City Hall beat reporters, today's L.A. Times front page carries the paper's first behind-the-scenes report by Michael Finnegan. He worked the 2001 mayor derby and more recently followed the Kerry campaign to the end. Today he explores how the candidates have been quietly wooing important potential supporters. L.A. County Democratic Party chairman Eric Baumann, for example, has been treated to lunch with Hahn at Pete's downtown, Antonio Villaraigosa at an East L.A. taco stand, Bob Hertzberg at Art's Deli in Studio City and Bernard Parks at Smeraldi's downtown. Baumann met Richard Alarcon in Universal City.

Others being courted include Bob Baker of the Police Protective League and Miguel Contreras of the County Federation of Labor, who has gotten personal visits at his office by Hahn, Villaraigosa and Alarcon. With costly TV the surest way to reach the most voters, it's all about raising money, political consultant Rick Taylor says in the story. On the media side, expect now to see more enterprise coverage. The Times' Patrick McGreevy has a piece today on the hired political talent working the race, including Hahn strategist Bill Carrick and former Howard Dean adviser Joe Trippi, who is helping Hertzberg alongside John Shallman. Both the Times' Ted Rohrlich and the Daily News' Beth Barrett are said to be working on stories about Hahn campaign chairman Bill Wardlaw.

Elsewhere on the Mayor 2005 beat:

   • Hertzberg turns 50: The candidate celebrated his milestone birthday with a surprise party at the private Jonathan Club. Gov. Schwarzenegger, ex-mayor Richard Riordan and their wives attended, Rick Orlov reports in today's Daily News. Riordan, who backed Villaraigosa last time, and his wife Nancy Daly have each given Hertzberg $1,000. Schwarzenegger made nice but stopped short of an endorsement.

   • Who's responsible?: A front page story in this week's L.A. Business Journal asks who should be blamed for the mess over the Fleishman-Hillard PR contract with the DWP. A separate piece by Howard Fine says the recently approved L.A. city business tax cut delivers less than promised.

   • Opting out: Most of the incumbents running for reelection in city races have decided not to accept public campaign funds and the spending limits tied to them.

   • Cooley's shadow: I have a piece in the December issue of Los Angeles magazine (not online) examining District Attorney Steve Cooley's unspoken role in the race. His grand jury probe into the Hahn Administration's ethics issues could be the March surprise, but he advises the hopefuls not to speculate: "They should just run their race and let us do our job."

   • Hahn flips: After Channel 2 ran investigative reports about poor security at LAX, Mayor Jim Hahn changed his position and advocated merging the airport police into the LAPD.

   * More PR: The Daily News reported Sunday on PR services which benefitted Mayor Hahn that were billed by Fleishman-Hillard to the city's airport and port departments. Previous stories tracked billings to the DWP.

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