Why Antonio Villaraigosa Should Run for U.S. Senate


antonioAll the gab and gossip among California’s cognoscenti currently focuses on one big question: Is former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio “Tony V” Villaraigosa in or out of the 2016 race for U.S. Senate?

Billionaire hedge-fund enviro-liberal Tom Steyer, after an annoying Hamlet act, bowed out last week and, thanks to the diligent John Hrabe, we also know that Treasurer John Chiang is a no-go.

Sure, there is still a clutch of Democratic members of Congress “seriously considering” the race for Barbara Boxer’s seat.

Xavier Becerra, John Garamendi, Raul Ruiz, Loretta Sanchez, Adam Schiff and Jackie Speier, among others, have all popped up in various stories. But, c’mon, they’re manikins compared to Tony V, and anyway would risk safe House seats for a decidedly far-fetched political proposition.

And with Republican registration at a paltry 28%, chances are slim and slimmer for a serious GOP contender to defeat early front-runner Attorney General Kamala Harris, despite the endearing effort by our pal, and former U.S. Representative, Ernie Konnyu to nominate himself for the fool’s errand.

So: Tony V must suck it up and answer the eternal question first propounded by Calbuzzer Emeritus V.I. Lenin: What is to be done?

Run, Tony, Run: After discussing it with about a dozen California political insiders, several of whom have spoken in detail with Antonio, (boy, do we not miss the grind of doing Actual Reporting for a living) we bet he joins the race fairly soon: “He’s more in than not in,” said one Tony V confidant.

And notwithstanding Willie Brown’s scornfully creepy attempt to keep him out, on behalf of ex-paramour Harris, Villaraigosa should run, for at least three important reasons:

kamalaharris1 – It’s a golden opportunity. By 2018, when there may be one or two more big openings (for governor and, possibly, for Senate, should ageless wonder Dianne Feinstein opt out), Tony V will have been out of office and largely invisible for five years – an eternity in political time. Even if he doesn’t triumph in 2016 – and he could – he would win by losing, in keeping his name out there, which would serve him well two years hence.

2 – California deserves a competitive race. Harris shouldn’t have the seat handed to her: that wouldn’t be good for voters – or for Harris. There hasn’t been a robust debate on national issues, like the economy, environment, education, national security, social justice and foreign policy, for starters, since Feinstein and Boxer first captured the state’s Senate seats in 1992.

3 – Calbuzz needs a story. Fair warning: If Villaraigosa doesn’t get in and stir up a real contest, we’re gonna’ have to return to the arduous task of elevating our short game.

Secret memo to Willie: it’s not 1990 anymore: Tony V and his allies ought to be especially motivated by Brown’s aforementioned, arrogant argument (as reported by the SacBee’s hard-charging Chris Cadelago) that Villaraigosa should defer to Harris:

“His loyalty and his relationship with her should be so valuable, and he should, in my opinion, see it as an opportunity to demonstrate that.”

Seriously? How pompous and presumptuous, even for the unfathomably vain ex-Speaker and S.F. Mayor, can one person be?

“Loyalty is not a one way road show and this potential US Senate campaign is bigger than Antonio,” as Fabian Nunez, another former Speaker and close ally of Villaraigosa’s, put it to Calbuzz.

“I don’t think he or Kamala needs to step aside. They are both solid leaders and provide a real choice for California and its diversity,” he added. “Antonio loves Kamala like a sister, but his commitment to public service and history of accomplishments in California makes him more than a good candidate.”

Dissing Latino Interests. One leading Latino political figure put it less diplomatically: “It’s more than insulting to suggest that the most prominent Latino in California should just step aside because the Bay Area political machine decided that we don’t really matter.”

Villaraigosa is well positioned to run as a business-friendly moderate with a Southern California base, having fought principled battles with the teachers and public employees unions as L.A. mayor, when he also buffed his credentials on the environment and managed complex political coalitions.

He’d be starting from behind, given that Harris is a statewide officeholder with two successful elections and some braggable accomplishments under her Donna Karan belt. Her handlers put stock in a couple of robo polls they’ve had done showing her well ahead. “She’s the real deal and he doesn’t have a lock on any constituency,” a non-aligned pollster told us.

Please keep in mind, however, that the election is in two years, not some special next month. And running from behind is a position Tony V is likely to relish:

“I don’t know a better retail politician,” one Democratic insider enthused to us. “In every competitive race he’s been in, he has been the underdog.”

warrenIn addition to a potential base among Latinos (if he can get them to turn out), he also might have some appeal to certain deep-pocket Democrats. Harris was immediately endorsed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – the darling of the Democratic left and the bête noir of Wall Street bankers – whose backing could be flipped as a matter of political ju-jitsu, i.e. Tony V could say to the moneybags, “Who do you want in Washington, another Elizabeth Warren or me?”

DiFi vs Babs. Looked at another way, he could position himself as a grown-up Feinstein type and let Harris run as a Fight, Fight, Fight Boxer clone.

Of course, Harris is the attorney general and a lot of potential corporate Democrats with business before the state may be afraid of opposing her. It’s not an unreasonable fear, given that if she loses for Senate she’s still AG for two years.

But with federal limits on contributions — $2,600 per person – we’d likely see a lot of wealthy Democrats giving to both candidates, arguing that they just want to see a vigorous debate for the sake of the party (not that either camp would be happy about that).

calbuzzartAt this juncture, our Department of Leadership Assessment, King and Queen-Making Division, honestly doesn’t know who’d make a better U.S. Senator. Harris and Villaraigosa both have strengths and weaknesses. (Although the first to sit down with us would improve his or her chances of winning our sympathies, given our widely known reputation as access whores).

In the end, however, the most crucial consideration is that after Obama’s 2012 walkover vs. Romney and Neel Kashkari’s puny 2014 challenge to Governor Brown, we haven’t had a truly memorable race since eMeg v Gandalf in 2010.  Either Antonio runs or it’s back to nap time for us.

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There are 10 comments for this post

  1. avatar kenboe says:

    Are either of these candidates intellectually worthy? They both just seem steeped in the cliches of the profession. Tony seems intellectually superficial. I would love for him to show me otherwise, because I doubt Kamala isn’t bought and paid for, either. Where are the mainstream radicals who demonstrate real symbols of wisdom?

  2. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    You call this immigrant Republican’s plan to run for the U.S. Senate a “fool’s errand”. Let’s see! CalBuzzers should know that I am anything but conventional. For example, I would immediately drop my Senate interest if Mayor Villaraigosa formally declares to run. Why? I could not get the 40% Hispanic vote my U.S. Senate election plan requires. Second, writing of beautiful Attorney General Harris, I am old enough to remember that another statewide candidate with an ethnic name like my Konnyu, namely George Deukmejian, took out Mayor Bradley in a governor’s race way back in 1982. Yes! This conservative Republican has a shot at winning the Senate race against an Obama loving and death penalty hating Ms. Kamala Harris if 40% or so of the Hispanics would support me.

    • avatar Buddyg says:

      Mr. Konnyu, what do you think of the pulchritudinous qualities of Antonio Villaraigosa? Why is Ms. Harris’ appearance relevant? Perhaps it is because you’re old enough to recall the wretched Deukmejian (bought and sold by the state’s growers) and his sub rosa racist campaign to defeat Bradley, so such irrelevancies matter to you. Fortunately California has changed since that debacle (and the two terms of Pee Wee Wilson that followed). We’re not going back to those conservative days, even if Tony V goes ahead with a campaign.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      Remind us all, Ernie: Who was the last Congressman thrown out after one term who came back decades later to win a seat in the US Senate?

    • avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

      @buddyg At my age I can smile and comment on the beauty of a deserving woman such as Kamala Harris. I suspect her husband agrees with me on that point. My comment is relevant with respect to Ms. Harris because she is my prospective opponent. And if you must know, Mr. Villaraigosa, does nothing for my sensibilities.

    • avatar Buddyg says:

      Mr. Konnyu, your assertion that “My comment [about Kamala Harris’ physical beauty] is relevant with respect to Ms. Harris because she is my prospective opponent” shows that if you get into this contest, you will soon find yourself on the wrong end of an umbrella and be the object of a passel of puzzled looks and headshakes. Her husband’s opinion about her is equally beside the point. On the other hand, you could well be the train wreck the Repubs richly deserve. So as the Spin Doctors once intoned, “Go ahead now.”

  3. avatar Buddyg says:

    While a competitive race would be more interesting, and provide more fodder for Calbuzz, I fear that too many entrants in the Senate primary could result in the ‘wrong” two finalists, including the wretched possibility of two Republicans, which could happen if enough Dems dilute the D majority. As for Tony V, I twice supported him enthusiastically for mayor, but was disappointed in his performance both in office and as a politician. His turncoat move against UTLA was not welcome, and his October absence in the gubernatorial campaign between Angelides and Ahnuld — which I attributed to his cynicism and opportunism — made some Dems lukewarm toward him, including me. (I remember the Dems at a state convention shortly after that debacle greeted his speech with tepid courtesy.)

    So his “business-friendly” approach may distinguish him from Harris, but would be the distinction that would lose him my support. Purely as a political matter, I would agree if he doesn’t run for something soon, he may become irrelevant.

  4. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    @pjhackenflack For an old newspaperman you are kind of loose with words. This Congressman was NOT thrown out of the House at all but, rather defeated at the polls through a baseless smear foisted on the public partly by your old paper.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      When a sitting Congressman gets only 41% of the vote, we generally refer to that as throwing the bum out.

  5. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    I would think Tony’s sub-par performance as LA mayor, coupled with his concurrent (and well-publicized) “zipper problem,” would be significant liabilities in any run for statewide electoral office. Greater-LA-area voters comprise almost half of all registered voters statewide, and those are the people most acquainted with Tony’s recent political (and personal) history. Given the top-two format, it’s still quite possible his name recognition would put him on the ballot, but vs. Kamala he’d get creamed. Unless she implodes, obviously.

    Ernie: Maybe ask St. Jude for an intercession? You seem a fairly reasonable man, but even you have to admit your quest is Quixotic at best. Best of luck to you regardless, as the Ca GOP desperately needs viable candidates in this state.

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