At his post-election gaggle with Los Angeles reporters at City Hall last week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa opened with congratulations on the Barack Obama reelection and praise for the people who waited in line to vote in states where weather or tactical obstructions made it a challenge. "It made me proud to be an American," Villaraigosa said.
But the room was filled around the edges with mayoral staffers who wanted to hear about this: would Villaraigosa be taking a job in the Obama Administration, thus ending his final term (and their jobs) six months early? He said he's staying put. "My focus is back on where it's supposed to be," he said, meaning Los Angeles. "I want to finish this job and finish it to the best of my ability....I'm not thinking about anything else." As an aside, he said (and I don't think I've read this before) that he first rebuffed Obama about a job with the administration a few years ago, during a conversation about a spate of fires in Southern California.
Staying put is a vague enough concept, however. Villaraigosa steered the conversation toward his recent new role as the voice of reform and moderation in state finances and dealings with unions. He said the Democrats' new bigger majority in Sacramento is not a license to spend and tax freely, and should be used to reform pensions and fix other broken parts of the system — he again mentioned Proposition 13. "People aren't interested in one-sided efforts of reform," Villarsaigosa said. So many of the mayor's points were aimed at state issues, and at sounding like the voice of reason, that you can't help but think he's testing out a run on the statewide stage. Whether that goes anywhere, of course, depends on whether Gov. Jerry Brown runs for reelection in 2014, as expected. Villaraigosa's mindset when his term ends next summer is also a factor. "He's tired," an aide told me, suggesting that Villaraigosa might just want to take a break before going to the next chapter. Wouldn't surprise me if the mayor opts for an appointive post, or a university gig, that doesn't require months of fundraising and voter schmoozing.
Up next, though, he's making his first appearance at a Los Angeles Magazine event since the magazine's Failure cover in 2009. Villaraigosa is scheduled to say a few words at a breakfast on Friday in Beverly Hills celebrating the magazine's new Made in LA issue, about Los Angeles as the capital of the nation's apparel industry. The "failure cover" came right after Villaraigosa won reelection, and I know it stung him and aides.
Later this month, Villaraigosa plans to lead a trade delegation to Chile, Brazil and Colombia. It's the first trade trip to South America by a Los Angeles mayor
since Tom Bradley in 1985. The dates are Nov. 24 to Dec. 3.
Also from the mayor's post-election gaggle:
- Villaraigosa defended his effort in the campaign for Measure J and said if the sales tax for transit is not extended, he will go back to "the tool box" to look for other ways to finance transit projects. He noted the measure got at least 64 percent of the vote. "The birthplace of car culture has become the home of 21 Century transit culture," he said.
- He said he supports a proposed public-private partnership to create a light-rail; tunnel along the 405 freeway corridor to link the Valley and the Westside. He and his staff gave no other details.
- He congratulated Jackie Lacey on her election as District Attorney, and in reply to a question said the defeat of Rep. Howard Berman was a major hit to LA's power in Washington. Villaraigosa had endorsed Berman over winner Rep. Brad Sherman. "Losing Howard Berman is a blow to Los Angeles, and that's no knock on Brad Sherman. It's just a fact." He congratulated Sherman as well.
- Villaraigosa said he will wait to take a position on the sales tax increase proposed by City Council President Herb Wesson, and wants to see any proposal tied to reforms. On all revenue measures going forward, Villaraigosda said, "If you want me for it, I have to see a new paradigm."
Photo of Villaraigosa, Sen. Barbara Boxer and transportation adviser Richard Katz at the 405 Freeway. Gary Leonard