L.A. Muckraker: Tony V’s Governor Bid Won’t Get Off the Ground


By Ron Kaye
Calbuzz Special Report

I lunched with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over corned beef sandwiches at a San Fernando Valley deli in 2006 – days after the City Council approved a $3 million settlement with a black firefighter who was tricked into eating spaghetti laced with dog food.

The idea of paying that kind of money for a stupid fire station prank stirred a heated controversy in L.A, even if the Fire Department had a record of racially discriminatory practices. Villaraigosa appeared ready to sign off on that settlement.

As he climbed into his SUV to leave, I couldn’t keep myself from teasing him by saying, “Whatever happened to that punk from East LA? He never would agree to pay $3 million to a guy for eating dog food.”

Antonio turned around with that great grin of his and said, “We’ll see.” A few days later, he vetoed the settlement, just about the only time he’s overruled the council in the go-along, get-along world of LA City Hall.

Three years later, though, I’m still asking the same question: What ever happened to that punk from East LA?

Antonio Villaraigosa brought a sense of excitement and hope for change to a troubled city when he was elected mayor in 2005. His charm and charisma brought large crowds to meetings where he spoke. Even conservative business people lined up to shake his hand and wish him well.

Today, it’s hard to find anyone who’s in love with Antonio. Even mayoral insiders are often disparaging, at least in private. As one prominent civic leader told me recently, “He’s never asked me or anyone else I know for advice and help. He’s gone his own way and we’ve gone ours.”

Running for re-election in March against a bunch of nobodies with no money, Antonio got just 55 percent of the vote and community activists defeated his heavily-financed solar energy measure — an ill-conceived and costly boondoggle – that was to be the heart of his claim to be the “greenest big-city mayor in America.”

Saying what so many people now believe, LA Magazine this week created a stir by putting Antonio on its June cover with the word “Failure.” Beneath that were the words: “So much promise. So much disappointment.”

Editor Kit Rachlis asked a lot of people, including me, what advice they would give the mayor for his second term.

I offered this: “I keep thinking he’ll wake up one morning in his mayoral mansion and wonder what he’s doing there as if it were just a dream, that he’ll remember where he came from and who he once was and realize he’s just a punk from East LA who doesn’t put the rich and powerful and famous on a pedestal and take such pleasure in having become one of them.”

Antonio never stood a chance in the governor’s race, and with the stigma of “failure” haunting him, I don’t see how his campaign can ever get off the ground.

LA’s massive budget deficit that could well bankrupt the city as it worsens in the next three years and the groundswell of discontent against him make it all but impossible to explain why he’s the right man to fix what’s broken in Sacramento.

With his fancy suits and love of fine wine and food, his servants and bodyguards, his multi-millionaire’s lifestyle, Villaraigosa has lost connection with his roots, where he came from, and the ideals he once held dear.

He’s become a showman and his politics all show business. He provides us with theater about great schools, gang-free streets and a green revolution, but little or nothing really changes. The schools remain a dismal failure; crime is down but the gangs deal drugs with impunity, and LA still has the nation’s most polluted air, worst traffic congestion and dirtiest power plants.

Change, if it ever comes, is still far off in the future but the entertainer in him performs as if the applause of flattering audiences is the same as achieving something grand.

It’s a pity, a waste of a talent that could have brought the people of LA together to do great things, create a great city. Many now dismiss the mayor as a man without substance, a narcissist driven by his ego and need for self-aggrandizement.

That’s true enough, but it’s true of a lot of other politicians too. In my heart of hearts, I still cling to the notion that there is more to him, that the man I’ve had long rambling chats with is capable of rising above the users and sycophants who surround him.

His ego need won’t be served by running for governor. His real opportunity is to finally get down to work as mayor, trying to make life a little better every day for the four million people who call LA home.

Ron Kaye is the former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, where he spent 23 years helping the paper become the voice of the San Fernando Valley. In the year since he left the Daily News, he has blogged about city issues at ronkayela.com and helped found the Saving LA Project, a loose-knit coalition of community groups citywide. He is working on the launch of OurLA.org, a non-profit online community-based newspaper.

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There are 9 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    If Antonio will repave and get rid of the potholes on Wilshire Boulevard, I’ll think about voting for him for governor. Seems like he ought to be able to get one of the great thoroughfares of the world right, and if he can’t, it says volumes about his ability to perform on a higher level. Been waiting four years. Clock is ticking.

  2. avatar Hap Hazard says:

    Agree that Villaraigosa is going nowhere. But for the sense of obligation of the LA union politicos to prop up one who once was theirs, and who they certainly owned outright, Hertzberg would have won, and would have been vastly more engaged, and effective in the job. Truth be told, Villaraigosa was never particularly impressive as Speaker of the Assembly.

    I see parallels between the characterizations here about Villaraigosa and what Schwarzenegger has reduced himself to while occupying space in Sacramento (listening to the applause and watching himself on webcasts or TV)…

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    For a little East El Lay levity – perhaps we could all agree to meet at “an undisclosed[!!] location” to watch Cheech and Chong re-runs?

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    I've admired the way Jerry & Phil write about politics without writing about themselves. It is all too easy for seasoned political writers to start putting themselves in the story – as if their years of covering politics have made them better than the people who do politics. Ron has a lot of valid criticisms about MAV, but the preachy know-it-all tone detracts from the piece.

  5. avatar Bill Bradley says:

    This piece sounds awfully cranky. I’m tired of all the snark from the last couple campaigns.

    Didn’t Ron Kaye campaign against Villaraigosa’s misbegotten solar initiative??

    Incidentally, Gray Davis says that Villaraigosa was a much more effective Assembly speaker than Hertzberg.

  6. avatar Anonymous says:

    If Villarraigosa could not be ethical in his marriage or to his children, supposedly he loved them. What makes you think he is going to be ethical to the populace? Villaraigosa only loves one person, HIMSELF. We are the FOOLS for trusting him and treating him as a god instead a servant of the people.

    “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man‘s character give him power” Abe Lincoln

  7. avatar Anonymous says:

    Tony Villar is no different than John Edwards. He, too, had an affair with a friend’s wife while his own wife, Corina, was undergoing cancer treatment. Then he gets caught playing around with a TV reporter who’s covering him. The guy has no personal ethics or loyalty. He’d be an embarrassment as the Democratic candidate and a disaster if he ever somehow got elected governor.
    See the New Yorker profile from May 2007.

  8. avatar Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Ron — left two longer posts on your LA based blog spot re: Councilman Bernard Parks, etc. Recommended to others as well – my friend G. Randy Primm’s ‘realityframe.blogspot.com’ for lively discussion, informed grousing and old fashioned rants – when Randy is in the mood, which is often! 😉 See also my friend Terence Lyons, News Editor at the weekly “Santa Monica Mirror” – based in Marina del Rey, CA.

  9. avatar Bill Orton says:

    I’ve witnessed positive change in the Los Angeles waterfront communities of San Pedro and Wilmington. The Harbor Department is moving forward on projects that longtime community activists call a sea-change in relations between the port and community. The appointment of a Board of Harbor Commissioners who have been dedicated to cleaning up polluting emissions coming from mobile sources in the harbor is due to this Mayor. And the presence of Nancy Sutley in the Obama Administration and her being replaced by another noted pragmatic environmentalist — S. David Freeman — as Deputy Mayor speaks volumes to the level of leaders the Mayor puts around him on green issues.

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