Newton's first column: Villaraigosa a letdown

lamagjune09.jpgJim Newton, who covered city politics and the LAPD before taking over as editor of the Los Angeles Times editorial pages, began his new weekly op-ed column this morning. The theme of today's piece is the failings of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

In recent weeks, as I have prepared to launch this weekly column, I've met with more than two dozen influential Angelenos — current and former politicians, labor leaders, environmentalists, neighborhood activists and bureaucrats — to hear about their concerns and enthusiasms. The conversations were candid and off the record. A diverse group of people, they shared one common sentiment: disappointment in the mayor.

Criticism from his longtime foes wasn't unexpected. They regard the mayor as selfish, arrogant and ineffective. But his longtime backers weren't much happier. They complain that he's been an incompetent manager and has squandered the public's initial enthusiasm for him. They too are astounded at his preening self-indulgence.

Neighborhood activists think he is labor's agent, determined to feather the nest of public employees in exchange for political support from unions. Labor representatives find him two-faced, reneging on deals and sloughing off basic management responsibilities. Environmentalists say he's all talk. Conservatives deplore him; liberals are tired of him. Politicians believe he's principally driven by his pursuit of higher office, but Jerry Brown beat him to the governorship and Dianne Feinstein shows no sign of leaving the Senate. And as those possibilities have not worked out, they say, Villaraigosa has simply lost interest. In the end, some speculate, he may have to settle for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors when Supervisor Gloria Molina departs.

"He's the invisible man," one veteran of local government said last week. "He has no impact."

It's not quite a pronouncement rising to the level of Los Angeles magazine's Failure cover, but it's close — and 18 months later in Villaraigosa's supposed comeback phase. This also was intriguing: "Austin Beutner, the first deputy mayor and chief executive for economic and business policy, is beloved by the business community, but it's hard to figure out exactly what he does. He and Villaraigosa circle each other warily, as Beutner contemplates his own run for mayor in 2012."

Villaraigosa objects: The mayor replies, and talks about other issues, on "Which Way, L.A.?" on KCRW at 7 p.m.

Also: The mayor's latest nominee to run the Department of Water and Power is Ron Nichols, managing director of the energy practice of Navigant Consulting in Seattle. He would be the sixth general manager under Villaraigosa's leadership of DWP.

More by Kevin Roderick:
Standing up to Harvey Weinstein
The Media
LA Times gets a top editor with nothing but questions
LA Observed Notes: Harvey Weinstein stripped bare
LA Observed Notes: Photos of the homeless, photos that found homes
Recent Villaraigosa stories on LA Observed:
Villaraigosa marries in weekend ceremony in Mexico
DNC: Garcetti and Villaraigosa to speak
Villaraigosa acting more like a candidate
Villaraigosa to host Clinton funder in Beachwood Canyon home
Friday news and notes: Police, politics, water and more
Villaraigosa buys in Beachwood Canyon for $2.5 million
Villaraigosa opts out of Senate race -- and now it gets interesting
Villaraigosa's day and more politics notes


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