City Hall

Ten lessons for de Blasio from Villaraigosa's Los Angeles

Bill de Blasio with his wife, Chirlane McCray, and daughter, Chiara, at an earlier demonstration, in The Nation.

Peter Dreier, the author and Occidental College academic who has been a leading voice in LA's progressive circles since at least the Jim Hahn era at City Hall, has a piece in The Nation offering new New York City mayor Bill de Blasio some tips. Dreier's frame of reference is the two terms of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor of Angeles. "Bill de Blasio may be today’s standard-bearer for urban populism, but he’s not the first left-leaning mayor to lead a major US metropolis," says Dreier. "America’s cities were the cradle of progressivism from the late 1800s through the New Deal and beyond....In 2005, voters in Los Angeles elected Villaraigosa—a onetime union organizer and community activist—as their mayor, the first Latino to hold that office in modern times."

Villaraigosa’s accomplishments during his eight years in office include cleaning up the nation’s dirtiest port, supporting private sector unions (janitors, hotel workers, truck drivers and security guards, among others) during organizing drives, strengthening the city’s living-wage law, dramatically expanding funding for public transit (by persuading voters to approve a sales tax increase), imposing strict workplace and environmental standards on the city’s trash collection and recycling industry, reforming job training programs to bring inner-city youths into well-paid union jobs, and reducing violent crime. He became a national champion of immigrant rights and ended the LAPD’s complicity with federal agencies on deportations. He was less successful in addressing the city’s severe housing crisis and improving its public schools.

Here are ten lessons that Bill de Blasio and his supporters might learn from Villaraigosa’s successes and failures:

1 Master “civic housekeeping.” Voters want to make sure that city government is competent before they’ll back you on social and economic justice issues. Make sure that potholes and playground equipment get fixed, parks are clean, and police and fire department response times are fast. At the first sign of a major snowstorm, get on top of a plow.

2 Be transparent about your major goals and quantify them whenever possible....

3 Embrace the “inside/outside” tension that comes from being a progressive activist in City Hall....

4 You’re the mayor, but think like an organizer. Each major issue requires a campaign—with a core base, allies and opposition targets (slumlords, Walmart, greedy banks)....

5 Take advantage of divisions within the business community...

Speaking of number 1, de Blasio will be tested by the snowstorm that began hitting New York today.

It's an interesting checklist and revealing, perhaps, about the playbook Villaraigosa may have used and that Eric Garcetii may be consulting for his first term. Garcetti, by the way, is supposed to be back from his Australian vacation. Maybe there's some jet lag happening: The mayor's office has resumed putting out an official daily schedule, but Friday's is short:

Mayor Garcetti has no public events.
Noted: Former LAPD chief William Bratton took the oath of office as chief of the NYPD today. “Who says you can’t come home again?,” he began his speech. He mentioned Hahn, who traveled to attend the ceremony.

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