In debate, Hahn denies she pushed for gang member's release from jail

Janice Hahn (L) and Craig Huey (R) are vying for California's 36th district congressional seat.
Janice Hahn (L) and Craig Huey (R) are vying for California's 36th district congressional seat.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images & CraigHuey.com

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During a debate at KPCC Thursday, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn – a Democratic candidate for Congress – found herself fending off charges she helped a gang member get out of jail.

Hahn and her Republican opponent Craig Huey offered radically different solutions to the nation’s problems on Thursday in what's expected to be their only debate before next week's election.

The two are competing to replace former Congresswoman Jane Harman, who represented California's 36th Congressional district – an area that stretches from Venice to San Pedro.

An earlier report by Fox 11 TV news that Hahn pushed for the release of an active gang member has been dogging the South Bay Democrat. Fox reporter Chris Blatchford quoted an unnamed Los Angeles City Attorney who said Hahn’s office played a role in the release of convicted felon P.J. Steve, who'd ostensibly worked as a gang interventionist.

“I never worked on behalf of a known convicted gang member to get them out of jail,” Hahn said. In response to a question from KPCC’s Larry Mantle, she added that the man’s distraught mother visited her office, and that she did make a call.

“The only call I ever made was just to say ‘what was the purpose of the arrest of this person?'” she said.

Blatchford (quoting an unnamed deputy city attorney) said he was “told Hahn’s office called and said P.J. Steve worked for her and because he was a gang intervention worker for her they asked for an O.R. release and it was granted.” An O.R. release is a release on an defendant’s own recognizance.

It’s a sensitive topic for Hahn, who said Fox’s report is wrong. It’s so sensitive that the L.A. City Councilwoman had her lawyers issue a cease and desist letter against the TV station in an effort to quash the story.

Huey seized on that. “A cease and desist by lawyers trying to stifle communication in the media," he said. "That is so wrong.”

Reporters sought more information from Hahn as she left the debate at KPCC, but she had little to say.

During their radio debate, Hahn and Huey offered traditionally Democratic and Republican solutions. Huey, a businessman and a longtime South Bay GOP activist, blasted President Obama’s fiscal policies.

“We are headed for an economic catastrophe," he said. "We’re talking about a calamity of more unemployment and more recession if we don’t do something about the national debt and the national deficit.”

He also called for lower taxes and smaller government, saying that “government jobs suck money out of the private economy.”

Hahn said she wants to address the federal deficit, too. “I just think it shouldn’t be on the backs of seniors, of those who are most vulnerable in our society," she said. "And I think the wealthiest of Americans – which Craig Huey seems to be one of those – should pay their fair share in taxes.”

Huey is a marketing consultant who’s pumped more than half a million dollars into his campaign. That’s made the race for the traditionally Democratic 36th Congressional seat more competitive than usual. The 61-year-old businessman is an anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage social conservative and a Tea Party favorite who said the United States needs to do less in other countries.

“I think it’s so outrageous that President Obama for example is spending billionaires of dollars in Libya in a reckless foreign policy," said Huey. "And instead of going to the Congress, going to the United Nations.” He also decried what he called a major assault on business by regulatory agencies like the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Hahn took issue with that. “We’ve seen regulations protecting people," she said. "I know at the Port of Los Angeles, we’re glad that we have regulations that keep dirty diesel trucks from calling on the port.”

Hahn, the 59-year-old sister of former Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn and daughter of legendary L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, said her opponent’s brand of conservatism is a bad fit for the 36th.

“I think his ideas are way too extreme for this district,” she said.

Huey countered that Janice Hahn’s L.A.-based political resume makes her a bad match. “Career politicians of the failed policies of Los Angeles don’t belong in this district.”

Huey and Hahn face off in a special election on Tuesday.