Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles mayor’

Antonio Plays Hamlet: A Two-Man Race for Demos?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

villaraigosa1To Run or Not to Run? That is His Question — Two Looks at Mayor V

That’s also the unanswered political question that will shape the 2010 governor’s race, a little more than a year before next year’s primary.

While we’re awaiting word from L.A. City Hall that will indicate whether Antonio Alcalde will choose to suffer the slings and arrows of a governor’s race, today we present two Calbuzzer commentaries on the mayor that offer different perspectives about where he stands.

Journalist Ron Kaye, a frequent critic and political foe of Villaraigosa, argues that the combination of the mayor’s political problems and the city’s fiscal crisis will keep him on the sidelines in 2010. Then political consultant Richie Ross takes a second look at L.A. Magazine’s now famous attack on Villaraigosa and concludes it’s not the mayor who’s the “Failure.”

First, some context:

At the start of 2009, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa looked like a surefire, top-rank contender to succeed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Apparently poised for easy re-election, he exuded confidence, even brashness, standing atop a strong base of labor and Latinos on which to build a statewide campaign.

Since then, however, the mayor has suffered a series of political setbacks, beginning with his underwhelming 55 percent re-election on March 3 against a weak field, and his city has become mired in the same kind of fiscal mess afflicting California government at every level.

Amid that backdrop, the calendar presents him with a tactical handicap in the Democratic race; he won’t be sworn in for his second term until July, effectively stalling his candidacy, while Attorney General Jerry Brown (not formally a candidate) and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (a declared candidate) have both been politically active for months.

For now, Newsom has a clear field in sniping at the front-runner Brown, styling himself as the Obama-like tribune of new politics against the old school Brown, the front-runner for the nomination. If Villaraigosa gets in, the shape of the race instantly changes, as he and Newsom will elbow and crowd each other as they try to position themselves as the chief challenger to the attorney general.

At this point, Villaraigosa himself is the only one who knows if that will happen or not. The indications we have say that he has genuinely not yet made that decision. As a practical matter, it’s not a choice that will wait much longer; lacking independent wealth, the L.A. mayor has to go out and grub for contributions like almost every candidate in California, and he’s already months behind in the money primary.

Here’s the link to Ron Kaye and here’s the link to Richie Ross.

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

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

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.