Transition week begins

The VillaraigosasOn Friday morning the long windup ends and Antonio Villaraigosa's term as mayor actually begins. To prepare, the Times interrupted former government editor and City Hall ace Jim Newton's book leave again to have him interview the incoming mayor for a long political analysis that ran over the weekend. Excerpts:

Over the past four decades, Los Angeles has grown from a sprawling suburb into a major center of political, economic and cultural activity under the leadership of just four mayors. Of them, two are widely regarded as successes.

If Antonio Villaraigosa, who publicly takes the oath of office Friday as the city's 41st mayor, is to join that list, he faces three tasks above all, according to veterans of the city's political life: embracing the national stature of the office, solidifying the city's political coalitions around him and maintaining control over the Los Angeles Police Department.

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A mayor is a political leader, and Villaraigosa already has demonstrated that he has command of his base and can win big citywide. His early moves in the run-up to his inauguration have drawn national attention and considerable praise at home...But a mayor also is an administrator, head of a multibillion-dollar municipal corporation that requires deft management. It is there that some suggest Villaraigosa might struggle and where even he admits to being untested. "It's a legitimate question," he said of those who wonder about his managerial abilities. "Time will tell."

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"He's never been in an executive job," said Yaroslavsky, acknowledging his own difficulties years ago when he moved from the City Council and had to adjust to the executive duties of a county supervisor. "One of his big challenges is going to be whether he can say no." Madeline Janis-Aparicio, executive director of the labor-backed Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, agreed that becoming an executive would be an adjustment for Villaraigosa but said she sees the challenge differently.

"I think Antonio is very capable of saying no," she said. "It's following through on the yes that's difficult for him putting together complicated policy, working things out over a long period of time."

For Newton, the piece was a brief interlude. He doesn't expect to return from his leave until early next year. Newton was pressed into service at least partly because Noam Levey, who covered the mayor's office under Hahn, had to recuse himself from covering Villaraigosa because his girlfriend works for the transition team and she may seek a job in the new administration. Times editors are still figuring out how to cover City Hall without Levey (whose gf is Leslie Pollner of Councilmember Wendy Greuel's staff) and Jessica Garrison, who is about to exit the city beat on maternity leave. Some in the building cringe at how short the Times bench is in savvy, well-sourced reporters who can step right in (as Levey did in January 2004) and who want to be in City Hall.

Gearing up:
• The Times also took a brief look at the parade of public officials who have come to see the mayor-elect, noted the resignation of Rick Caruso from the police commission, and did an exit profile of John Mack, departing soon as president of the Los Angeles Ubran League—and rumored to be on Villaraigosa's list of potential commissioners.

• Organizers of Thursday night's inaugural gala tell Rick Orlov they have sold all 1200 seats and will raise more than $600,000 for the L.A.'s BEST after-school program.

• The Times' Patrick McGreevy points out that when Villaraigosa takes office, Latinos will occupy "the positions of mayor of Los Angeles, president of its City Council, Los Angeles city attorney, president of the Los Angeles school board, chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors, county sheriff and chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. And that does not include the state Assembly speaker, Fabian Nuez, who is also from Los Angeles." Seven years ago, only one of those posts had a Latino incumbent—Villaraigosa as Speaker.

• Villaraigosa sat next to harbor commission president Nick Tonsich at Saturday's swearing-in ceremony for Councilmember Janice Hahn. Tonsich promised the commission would not do "anything crazy" before the changeover.

• Brady Westwater takes issue (persuasively) with the L.A. Independent's report that Jose Huizar could be the first immigrant elected to the city council.


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