Tom Hayden can't stop running

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LOS ANGELES - His ex-wife, Jane Fonda, has found religion and divorced her latest husband. His most famous co-defendants in the Chicago Seven trial, the courtroom confrontation between anti-Vietnam War protesters and the establishment, are dead.

And Tom Hayden himself?

At 61, he's still thinking globally. The former 1960s radical is a marquee speaker at protest rallies against global trade.

But time and circumstance are forcing him to act more locally than ever before.

Barred by term limits from remaining in the California legislature, he's fighting hard for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in today's runoff election.

No shrinking violet

Hayden, whose gray goatee gives him a bemusedly Mephistophelean aspect, isn't shy about reminding voters of his accomplishments.

"Tom Hayden changed America," boasts his campaign Web site. It cites a former John F. Kennedy adviser to support a claim that Hayden "created the blueprint for the Great Society programs" of the 1960s.

At the moment, his agenda is somewhat less lofty: potholes, parking ("We should wage a fight," he says, "to make sure that the parking meter revenue is reinvested" near where it is collected) and luring "a quality bookstore" to the Westwood shopping district.

He's staked out positions on issues far beyond the scope of municipal government (from solar power development to Tibet). But he's keeping the focus on local issues - and on himself - in his largely self-financed campaign.

His long list of celebrity endorsements extends from Ed Asner to Barbra Streisand to Dweezil Zappa. Among those who've attended Hayden fund-raising events: Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Annette Benning and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt (who planned to stage a Hayden fund-raiser at his office until negative publicity forced it to be canceled).

Reinventing themselves

Hayden is trying to join a growing line of California politicians who have reinvented themselves by necessity (term limits) or reality (defeats in high-profile contests).

Those who have made the transition include former Gov. Jerry Brown, now enjoying a personal renaissance as Oakland's mayor, and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, the mayor of San Francisco.

First elected to the state legislature in the early 1980s, Hayden termed out after 1999. He also lost badly in two races for higher office during the 1990s: for governor and mayor of Los Angeles.

Now he says he wants to solve the problems facing the affluent residents of the 5th district on the city's west side, which includes a portion of the trendy 90210 ZIP code.

On a recent morning, Hayden, paper coffee cup in hand, met his runoff opponent, Jack Weiss, for the last in a series of lightly attended campaign debates. A former federal prosecutor, Weiss is highlighting his roots in the district (in contrast to Hayden, who moved here only after deciding to run and is being called a carpetbagger).

Name dropping

Before an audience of perhaps 40 voters, Hayden begins by dropping the name of a well-known backer: Bill Walton, the pro basketball figure who played locally at UCLA and became almost as famous for his leftist politics as his prowess on the court.

Hayden describes himself and Walton, now a TV commentator, as "people of a generation that has tried to come out of that counterculture and into the mainstream." Like Walton's talent for shot-blocking, Hayden has been effective over the years in throwing up barriers to development and other unpopular changes.

He proudly calls himself "a thorn in the side" of the business establishment, adding that "a who's-who of development interests are united in trying to prevent the election of Tom Hayden to City Hall."

Sensing an opening, his opponent, a novice candidate, jumps on the third-person reference.

"This election is not about you," says Weiss. "It's about us. It's about our neighborhoods. It's not about you."

Skeptics believe the out-of-work Hayden wants the $133,000-a-year councilman's job mainly as an official staging ground for his left-wing pursuits.

But the virulence of the opposition suggests Hayden isn't exaggerating when he brags about his effectiveness. A radio ad campaign sponsored by a group of apartment developers goes out of its way to urge Hayden's defeat. The ad does not even bother to mention his unknown opponent.

His more far-flung critics are fresh proof, if any were needed, that the skirmishes of the 1960s are still being fought - and might continue to be for as long as the combatants live, or longer.

The conservative Weekly Standard magazine took a recent poke at Hayden for criticizing his opponent's supposed insensitivity to women (after Weiss failed to take a position of an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution). Labeling Hayden a hypocrite, the magazine pointed out that the pro-feminist Hayden had also welcomed the support of Hustler's Flynt and received a $250 contribution from Playboy Enterprises (which he returned).

For some on the right, Hayden can never be forgiven his role as a founder of Students for a Democratic Society and an organizer of the protests that led to anarchy in the streets of Chicago in 1968.

After a 4 1/2 -month trial in 1969 and 1970, Hayden was among those found guilty of conspiring to incite a riot; the convictions were later thrown out on appeal. Two of his best-known co-defendants, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, are dead. (Rubin was fatally injured seven years ago while jaywalking in Los Angeles.)

In 1973, Hayden married Fonda, whom he met during their anti-Vietnam War protest days, and their home became a salon for left-leaning politicians and causes. The marriage also provided a financial stake for his political career (he has put at least $170,000 of his own money into his current campaign).

Hayden and his second wife, Barbara Williams, a singer-actress, recently adopted a toddler. Hayden, who plays sandlot baseball on weekends, says he'd like to coach his son's Little League team someday.

Whether he'll be doing that as an elected official isn't clear. Today's runoff is rated a tossup by local politicians.

'Two terms, I'm done'

In an interview, Hayden defends his decision to run for City Council. He calls that job "the toughest challenge of all" and speaks dismissively of the state Senate, where he served for eight years, as a "debating society."

Some supporters see a council seat as simply the first step up the comeback ladder, with a run for mayor, perhaps, four years from now. He dismisses that possibility.

"I'm done. This is it," Hayden says. "I'm 61 years old. I'm trying to plan out my future. Two terms, and then I'm done."

His rival, who lacks Hayden's polish but enjoys strong grass-roots backing, would prefer to end Hayden's career today.

"It must be hard to give up the limelight," says Weiss, who was not yet in kindergarten when the whole world watched the "revolution" of 1968.

"What we need more than ever," declares Tom Hayden's 36-year-old opponent, "is a new generation of leadership."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
77°