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VILLARAIGOSA BLASTS HAHN WITH AD PINNED TO PROBES.

Byline: Rick Orlov Staff Writer

Mayoral challenger Antonio Villaraigosa launched the first attack ad of the May 17 runoff campaign on Monday, highlighting ongoing ``pay-to-play'' investigations in Mayor James Hahn's administration.

``Where will the investigation end?'' asks the announcer in the 30-second commercial, referring to county and federal grand jury probes into contracting practices at City Hall.

``They say, follow the money, and almost all the corruption is tied to fundraising for Hahn's campaigns. Isn't it time for a change?''

Villaraigosa spokesman Nathan James would not discuss the ad.

But a Hahn spokesman said Villaraigosa's support is slipping among voters and the challenger had launched the commercial to rebuild his support.

``We think they're in free fall and desperate to stop any drop,'' Kam Kuwata said.

But James countered that the Hahn campaign - which has raised less money than the challenger - has not yet aired a commercial with the election only two weeks away.

``The campaign that is desperate is not even on TV,'' James said.

The commercial came as Hahn and Villaraigosa continued to attack one another over campaign contributions and education plans.

For the first time, Hahn proposed full public financing for city elections to prevent problems with campaign fundraising.

Under the city's ethics laws, each candidate must limit his spending to $1.8 million in order to be eligible for public matching funds. However, the caps are regularly lifted in major races because of independent expenditures made by groups operating outside the candidate's control.

Hahn also demanded more details from Villaraigosa on the $47,000 he received from the employees of two Miami firms after meeting with the companies' executives during an East Coast fundraising trip earlier this year.

Villaraigosa said he took the appropriate action by returning the money.

The opponents also made campaign appearances to tout their plans for overhauling Los Angeles' public school system, even through the Mayor's Office currently plays no direct role in education.

Hahn appeared at one of the city's first and most successful charter schools, Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Pacoima, where he announced the appointment of Principal Yvonne Chan to a new city-school district committee looking at reforms.

``We need someone who understands what needs to be done and is not afraid to speak out,'' said Hahn, who has proposed a change that would allow the mayor to appoint three additional members to the seven-member Board of Education and create five charter schools a year.

Villaraigosa appeared at the Nueva Camino charter school in downtown with producer Rob Reiner, who has proposed a measure to provide universal preschool for children. Nancy Daly Riordan, the wife of former Mayor Richard Riordan and an advocate on children's issues, also was present.

``The mayor is talking about education during the final three weeks of a tough election, but where has he been for four years,'' Villaraigosa said. ``He's been missing in action, while I was working to get the biggest bond issue passed in state history to build schools and supported other measures to help education. This mayor has been missing in action.''

Hahn said he supported expansion of the LA's BEST after-school program, developed the Free Cash for College program that helps some 10,000 students a year and has been working to help the Los Angeles Unified School District find sites for new schools.

Rick Orlov, (213) 978-0390

rick.orlov(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 3, 2005
Words:564
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