Er, has the mayor actually done anything recently to deserve all this publicity?

You mean anything involving the city of L.A.? Well, no. But what he did do was become president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors last June. That could turn out to be one of the cleverest and most valuable maneuvers of his political career because it elevates him to a position that provides instant media access. National media access. Villaraigosa has become the go-to spokesman for America's urban ills and a reliable surrogate for President Obama. He also represents the nation's second largest city - and he's Latino. Attention leads to more attention, and while his network appearances haven't exactly been scintillating, the mayor has been able to deliver basic talking points without any problem. A solid C. That only gets him more attention. And now that he's been appointed chairman of the Democratic Convention, the attention continues, from the NYT and this week in Time magazine.

The choice was a mild surprise, even though the Democrats are focused on preserving their hold on the Latino vote as the key to victory in November -- the subject of the latest cover story of TIME. Back in 2008, Villaraigosa had famously endorsed Hillary Clinton over then candidate Obama during the Democratic primaries. While the chairmanship might not hold much real authority, it has already renewed national interest in the mayor, who runs a city that is 48% Latino. And the broader spotlight has allowed him to refresh his local reputation in the City of Angels, a place that hasn't exactly been like heaven for many residents lately.

Funny thing about Villaraigosa: For all his mediocrity as a mayor, he's managed to skirt around most landmines (especially after his marital infidelities became yesterday's news). Truth is, there's very little to pounce on. He tried and failed to reform the schools, but so have many others before him. He overseas a city budget that's chronically in the red, but other cities have deep deficits as well. He's done nothing to alleviate L.A.'s horrendous traffic conditions, but he keeps trumpeting a fanciful plan for mass transit that's hard to attack because it's so far into the future. One more thing about his not-so-wonderful record: No one outside L.A. really cares about it. This is the beauty part of the mayor's resurgence. His role as a Latino political leader trumps most everything he has done in L.A. - good, bad, or indifferent. As long as the guy doesn't get himself into seriously hot water, he gets a pass. That could change should he decide to run for statewide office, but voters tend to have very short memories.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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