Villaraigosa takes the spotlight in Charlotte

villaraigosa-politico-charlotte.jpgFor those of us in Los Angeles, one of the subplots of the Democratic convention this week in North Carolina will be the omnipresence of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. How will he go over on a national stage? Will he emerge from Charlotte with a changed profile, pro or con? How many news media interviews will he manage to squeeze in? Before the convention's first TV session, we know the answer to the last question: how many reporters are there? Villaraigosa was busy all weekend chatting for the cameras, schmoozing party members and journalists, and hosting a Saturday night dinner attended by Democratic figures, celebrities and media types.

Here's a sampling of what they are saying about our mayor so far:

Seema Mehta in the Los Angeles Times:

Villaraigosa is also focused on writing the six minutes of remarks he will deliver to thousands of delegates Thursday — arguably the biggest speech of his political life — shortly before Obama accepts the Democratic nomination. Although they come from different political perspectives, Villaraigosa said his speech would be similar thematically to those given at the Republican National Convention last week by Sen. Marco Rubio and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"I think it's important to have a little bit about who you are. Most people don't know who the mayor of Los Angeles is, or the chairman of the [convention], so it's important to have a little biography, how that life brought me where I am today, celebrating the opportunity America we all live in, but also saying because of that life and the opportunities I've had, this is the path I've chosen," he said.

Byron Tau in Politico:

“The Clinton policies are the Obama policies,” Villaraigosa said, speaking at the kickoff POLITICO Playbook breakfast of the Democratic National Convention here.

The former president has become an active surrogate for Obama, and he’ll address delegates here in a showcase speech Wednesday night. But Villaraigosa, who’s serving as the Democratic convention chairman, didn’t even wait for the opening session to keep stoking the nostalgia of a time when the economy was stronger and terrorism was a more distant threat.

“The Clinton years were great years,” he said.

And Villaraigosa said Obama has learned the lessons from his predecessor about the kind of politics to practice to get there.

“I’m a Democrat with a small ‘d.’ I believe very strongly in what I call the radical center,” said Villaraigosa. “I believe that the president is moving down that path.”

Rick Orlov in the Daily News:

As convention chairman he is not only serving as master of ceremonies when the Dems open their event Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., but he also offered responses to statements made by Republicans at their convention in Tampa.

With that role has come significant attention from the national media - Fox News is making him its "political power player of the week," and he has been doing a round-robin series of interviews on everything from C-SPAN and the major news shows to national and local Spanish media....

Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, said he only sees an upside for Villaraiogsa at the convention.

"He clearly has made up any lost ground he had in 2008 and is now on the A team with the president," Sonenshein said. "He will be the principal speaker as far as Latinos are concerned.

"And the way the election is looking, he will be playing a valuable role for the president in the Southwest and Florida to get out the Latino vote."

David Siders in the Sacramento Bee:

In recent months...the former Assembly speaker has regained some of his old swagger. In Charlotte, N.C., this week to gavel in the Democratic National Convention as its chairman, Villaraigosa is now considered a potential candidate for an appointment in a second Obama administration.

He also has rejoined Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris at the top of a list of Democrats considered likely contenders for governor or U.S. Senate.

"It would have been really easy to write him off a couple of years ago," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "But now you'd have to consider him as one of the next generation of potential leaders of California."

Villaraigosa spoke Monday morning to the Iowa delegation, says the Des Moines Register:

Villaraigosa will be the keynote speaker for the Iowa Democratic Party’s big fundraiser on Oct. 20 – the Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner, Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said. Prominent Democrats have historically used the JJ dinner as a spring board for competition in the Iowa caucuses.

Villaraigosa deflected questions about his own presidential aspirations by saying he’s “looking to finish my job the way I started, with a bang. I’m working ’til 11:59:59 on June 30 and then I’m riding into the sunset for a while.”

Also this from a sightings roundup in the Sunday New York Times: "The actress Tyne Daly eating at Osso restaurant with Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, at a dinner hosted by Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles that also drew NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and former Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. "

And from Mar Vista community activist Ken Alpern at CityWatch:

It is with both pride and dread that Angelenos must be viewing the leadership role of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. While an elevated profile of the man who connected faraway Washington power brokers with a West Coast city is hoped to bode well for Angelenos, these same Angelenos are understandably concerned about an occupied and absent Mayor while the City of the Angels is on the verge of going broke.

Anyone who has regularly read CityWatch, the Los Angeles Times or any other Los Angeles or national publication, knows that the City of Los Angeles is in deep financial trouble. Hundreds of millions of dollars are owed to City pension funds, and the fiscal mess facing City Hall has forced both union give-backs (angering many City workers) and service cut-backs (angering…well…everyone).

Yet while Los Angeles must focus on building its own economy, it must also fight for state and federal dollars when it comes to transportation and infrastructure. While one might rightly argue that personal/marital conflicts, fights with administrative heads, a rivalry with the LAUSD that is independent of the governance of the City of Los Angeles, and a host of other distractions have hurt Mayor Villaraigosa’s tenure, it cannot be argued that he has failed in T/I issues.

Quite the contrary—the mayor who early in his eight-year tenure ran up and down Wilshire Blvd galvanizing support for widening the I-405 freeway, is the same man who worked with County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and House Representative Henry Waxman to reverse their fiscal and legal constraints on building the once-and-future Wilshire Subway. Under former Mayor Hahn, the Wilshire Subway was considered a pipe dream 50 years in the making.

Meanwhile, readers of Republican house organs will be reminded that in college Villaraigosa had a different last name and led the UCLA chapter of MEChA, the impotent student group that some on the right invoke to scare their more wingnutty brethren.

Politico photo by M. Scott Mahaskey

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