Guy Benson called it “appalling… misogynistic… overtly racist, sexist, and generally despicable… totally beyond the pale.” What inspired Benson to unload every pejorative in his vocabulary was an online video attack ad against Los Angeles City Council member Janice Hahn, the Democratic candidate for Congress in next month’s special election in California’s 36th District.
Liberals were up in arms about the obnoxious rap-themed video — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the word “immediately” twice in demanding that Republicans denounce the ad — but Benson’s condemnation was written for the conservative Townhall.com site. Benson was far from the only conservative repudiating the video, which was swiftly rejected by California GOP officials and by the campaign of Craig Huey, Hahn’s Republican opponent in the July 12 election.
As the video’s YouTube viewership skyrocketed on Wednesday morning, the man who directed it was laughing at the controversy the ad had provoked. “It will probably hit 100,000 [views] by the end of today,” said Ladd Ehlinger Jr., an independent filmmaker who was hired by a new political action committee, Turn Right USA, to produce what he calls “take-no-prisoners” attacks on liberal politicians.
Most websites appended a NSFW (“Not Safe for Work”) warning to the ad, which depicts Hahn as a pole-dancing stripper, with two black rappers shouting vulgar lyrics as they leer at dollar bills stuffed into her hot pants and demand money so they can “get back on the street” and “buy some more heat.” This lurid booty-shaking has been almost universally condemned, with several bloggers calling it the most offensive political ad ever made, but it has inarguably attracted widespread attention to the charge made by a narrator in the video’s opening segment: “In an insane effort to reduce gang violence, Janice Hahn hired hard-core gang members with taxpayer money to be ‘gang intervention specialists.’ She even helped them get out of jail, so they could rape and kill again.”
Hahn’s support for the “gang intervention” program was the subject of an investigative report by KTTV in Los Angeles in April 2008. That report focused on Steve Myrick, a member of the Crips gang who told police he was “working with Janice Hahn” and even had a certificate of appreciation from the councilwoman for his work with a summer job program. “That’s why I’m out [of jail] right now,” Myrick told police after he was arrested on a drug charge in 2006. “Miss Hahn got me out, like, three weeks ago.” He said he violated a police order banning him from a public housing project because Hahn “sent me over there to do some work. She got me off, so it was cool.” In 2007, Myrick was sentenced to life in prison for rape.
Hahn told KTTV it was “blatantly false” that she had made “direct payments” to Myrick or other gang-intervention workers, but defended the program’s hiring of convicted criminals: “I do know that it does take a different kind of person to be able to speak the language that convinces the shooters to not retaliate…. I see it as keeping the peace in a community that has been plagued by violence.” The report also exposed the case of Brandon Bullard, another Crips gangster who told police he was paid to work on Hahn’s gang-intervention program. Hahn spoke at Bullard’s funeral after he was murdered in February 2008.
That 2008 report also named gangsters Marlon “Bow Wow” Jones and Demarco “DC” Chaffold among those who had claimed Hahn as a patron, but KTTV did not mention other notorious examples of how L.A.’s anti-gang efforts have funded criminality. Mexican Mafia gangster Hector “Big Weasel” Marroquin, whom federal agents of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms arrested in May 2007 on gun-trafficking charges, headed a group that received some $1.5 million in city anti-gang money. In February 2009, former Long Beach gang-intervention worker “Crazy John” Kennedy was convicted in the murder of a couple who were tied to an anchor and thrown off their yacht to drown. And in May 2009, a federal racketeering indictment named Alex “Rebelde” Sanchez as a top leader of the ultra-violent MS-13 gang. Sanchez had been one of the most high-profile gang-intervention activists in Los Angeles.
These spectacular failures of the anti-gang program were previously the subject of widespread media coverage, but political reporters covering the special election in California’s 36th District have all but ignored it as an issue in Hahn’s candidacy — even though the councilwoman actually proposed a tax increase to expand the program. Typical of media coverage of the election, the Los Angeles Times enthusiastically reported Monday that Hahn was endorsed by Bill Clinton, who said 36th District voters must choose between “a path of right-wing extremism or one of compromise and common-sense solutions.” Maybe California voters think it’s “common sense” to spend tens of millions of dollars in tax money to pay violent criminals, but Hahn’s connection to the gang-intervention scandal had gone unmentioned by the political press until Ehlinger’s video hit the Internet on Tuesday. Suddenly, the connection was newsworthy, even though Ehlinger had to take to his blog to excoriate the media for being “too lazy to do research” to verify the facts behind the ad.
While Ehlinger was busy Wednesday fielding media inquiries about the video (from CNN and National Public Radio, among others), the potential impact on next month’s special election was impossible to gauge. Some have predicted Hahn will “waltz to victory” in the district long represented by retiring Democrat Rep. Jane Harman, but others pointed to indications of trouble. Democrats had hoped that the state’s recently enacted “jungle primary” system (with multiple candidates from all parties on a single ballot, and the top two advancing to the general election) would permit an all-Democrat match-up July 12. But in what the Los Angeles Times called a “major upset,” the Republican Huey edged out Democrat Debra Bowen for second place in the May 17 primary. A conservative businessman, Huey has put more than a half-million dollars of his own money into the campaign, pushing a message of fiscal responsibility, while Democrats have tried to brand the Republican candidate as a Religious Right extremist. The new gang-banging PAC video — approved by neither Huey nor the GOP — is essentially the first direct attack on Hahn’s city council record.
The ad generated such a firestorm of controversy as to exceed even Ehlinger’s expectations. By late Wednesday, more than 200,000 people had watched it on YouTube, and a special “Hahn’s Homeboyz” website created by the PAC kept crashing because of unexpectedly heavy traffic. The video had clearly become yet another viral hit for Ehlinger (whom I previously profiled in an August 2010 feature for The American Spectator). A writer for the liberal Talking Points Memo blog, seeking an analogy to express his indignation, called the video “Willie Horton on steroids.” This comparison was obviously intended as criticism, but political historians will recall that the candidate targeted by that notorious 1988 ad actually ended up losing the election. Whether Janice Hahn will suffer the fate of Michael Dukakis remains to be seen.
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