Kenneth Hahn, California, 1990
Kenneth P. Hahn
Born July 1, 1939
Los Angeles, California
10 million constituents
Elected November 1990
Re-elected 1994, 1998
Essay by Kenneth P. Hahn for Out and Elected in the USA
I worked for the Los Angeles County Assessor’s office for ten years and was not content with the direction the office was heading. Since the Assessor is an elected position in each of the 58 counties of California, I figured “what better way to influence the way things are done in the office than to run for Assessor?” So, late in the fall of 1989 I started to lay out my campaign for the 1990 election. I waited for the filing deadline to make my move. I did this because I was challenging an incumbent and because I really had no campaign in place since I had no experience running for office.
After the filing deadline, there were seven candidates challenging the incumbent and I had begun to have serious misgivings about my new adventure. What kept me going was the idea that I could make a difference in the office in spite of the fact that I had no fundraising experience or connections in that regard.
I plugged away and after the dust settled on primary election night, I had forced the incumbent into a run-off in the general election! I suddenly had credibility and my primary election opponents became campaign volunteers. We raised money, retained a campaign manager and worked toward November. I was also now giving more speeches and had more public appearances.
None of these events made the impression on me that the Stonewall Democratic Club did. It was the first time I had addressed a lesbian and gay organization. While it never occurred to me to mention that I was gay, I found warmth and support from Stonewall. The night I spoke to them, two members wrote checks to my campaign on the spot. These two members, Steve Martin and Jeffrey Prang, became friends. They eventually ran for office and are now members of West Hollywood’s City Council.
When the general election arrived, I had a very good shot at winning. That night, I did win, and for the first time in Los Angeles County history, a sitting assessor was defeated. As I walked out of the Downtown Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel and looked up, I said “Wow!” I was struck by the realization that I was responsible for valuing all this real estate and felt higher than the highest of skyscrapers surrounding me.
I’ve been a regular participant in the Christopher Street West Gay Pride Parade since my election. The first year, however, was the most memorable. I was provided a shiny new convertible, as were other elected officials and parade dignitaries. When it was time for my debut and my car rounded the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevards I started to wave to the crowd as the announcer blared, “And now Los Angeles County Assessor Kenneth P. Hahn, the highest ranking gay elected official in the United States.” (As a county-wide elected official, I have a constituency larger than governors of 42 of the states.) I felt my heart skip a beat. I had always been out, but no one had ever said anything about it before. The Los Angeles Times ran stories on Monday and Tuesday about me being “kind of flabbergasted,” then an insightful editorial on Wednesday, which in effect said, “as long as he does a good job, his sexual orientation does not matter.” Once again, I was on top of the world!
Getting elected and being reelected in 1994 and 1998 has been extremely rewarding. This is especially so given my shaky start in politics, but I very strongly encourage anyone contemplating such a move to hang in there and tough it out. Take a good look at the really outstanding lesbian and gay elected officials who have been chosen to represent us since I was first elected. If they had had second thoughts, which may have, and quit, which they did not, we would have missed the contribution of their leadership.