LOS ANGELES -- Despite corruption allegations at City Hall and his own drab image, Mayor James Hahn survived a scare in his bid for a second term and advanced yesterday to a runoff against the Hispanic councilman he beat four years ago.
Hahn trailed fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa in Tuesday's election, while a third candidate conceded yesterday. The two top vote-getters will meet in a May 17 rematch of their bitter 2001 runoff.
Until midmorning yesterday, Hahn seemed at risk of becoming the first Los Angeles mayor in 32 years to be ousted. But he shrugged off his second-place finish, saying, ''Every day is a new day."
He said he will stick to his message that crime is down and the economy is growing. ''There's not going to be a new Jim Hahn," Hahn told cheering union supporters. ''I've got to do a better job of communicating with voters."
Villaraigosa, meanwhile, plunged into the battleground neighborhoods that cost him City Hall four years ago. ''People want a fresh start, they want to get traffic moving again, they want to address the challenges that we face," he said.
Villaraigosa finished with 33 percent of the vote, followed by Hahn with 24 percent. Another candidate, Bob Hertzberg, like Villaraigosa a former speaker in the state Assembly, conceded after pulling in 22 percent. Candidates needed more than 50 percent to win the mayor's job outright and avoid the runoff.
Villaraigosa, 52, is a high school dropout and immigrant's son who rose from the barrio of East LA to the halls of power in Sacramento. He could become the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles since 1872.
Hahn's family has been active in the city's politics for decades; his father, Kenneth, was a beloved county supervisor. The 54-year-old mayor had won six straight races in the city, dating to his days as controller in the early 1980s.
That includes the 2001 runoff in which he beat Villaraigosa after framing him as soft on crime for seeking a presidential pardon for a convicted drug trafficker. Hahn won with a coalition of black voters and moderate-to-conservative whites in the San Fernando Valley.
But Hahn saw his support among those voting blocs slip this time around, and he had to fend off attacks that he was too starchy and aloof to lead the nation's second-largest city. His opponents also hammered him over allegations that members of his administration traded city contracts for campaign donations.
Some analysts said Hahn's weaknesses will give Villaraigosa the upper hand in the runoff.
''He can blame Hahn for every bad thing that's happened in Los Angeles since the last election," said John Pitney, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College.
A Los Angeles Times exit poll found that the corruption investigations by local and federal prosecutors appeared to make a difference in Hahn's second-place finish. Nearly half of voters surveyed said the allegations affected their choice; of those, a solid majority voted for a candidate other than Hahn.
Hahn led Hertzberg by about 6,000 votes yesterday, with nearly 24,000 absentee and other ballots uncounted. But Hertzberg judged the gap too big to overcome and called the mayor to congratulate him. The vote count took an unusually long time because of bad weather and problems with reading a new type of ballot. Evening fog forced organizers to abandon plans to use two helicopters to ferry returns to the city's downtown election center. Instead, a fleet of cars was deployed.