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I Could Be a Voice for the Other L.A. 

Web exclusive: the L.A. Weekly’s interview with Antonio Villaraigosa, candidate for the 14th Los Angeles City Council District

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Photo by Debra DiPaolo

L.A. WEEKLY: What have you been doing the last two years, in the period after you lost your campaign for mayor to Jim Hahn?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Spent a lot of time with my family. On election night, I knew that night I would run again for mayor. It was important for me to take time off with my family. So I did. I joked that we’ve had more meals in the last year and a half than I did in the eight years before that. I lectured around the country: Democratic venues, progressive conferences, environmental folks, student leaders, Harvard, Berkeley. All around the country. Taught a couple of policy classes. At USC I put together a series of nine urban-issues forums, two semesters looking at challenges facing cities. In the campaign I talked a lot about using pension funds for teachers [for example] to invest in a new market. That whole new-market initiative that Clinton used to attract corporate capital into the inner city. And I was part of a private equity fund to raise those $750 million. I also talked about using UCLA and USC as engines for economic development. And because I did talk about that a lot, [I was asked] to co-chair the bio-med research park that we hope will bring 8,500 middle-class jobs in.

Who was your co-chair?

Ed Roski [developer of Staples Center] and I spearheaded the initiative. I didn’t wanna work full time, so I did it on a consulting basis.

Did you do any work for Eli Broad?

Eli was a part of this effort, but Eli didn’t pay me or anything like that.

Why did you enter this council race?

Over the last year and a half I’ve had an opportunity to reflect, and running against an incumbent is a tough thing. On the City Council I could do a lot of things. I could be a voice for the other L.A., a citywide leader who’s beginning to look at the many issues, from affordable housing and community-based policing to what we do to provide more park space for after-school programs. I just said to myself, you know, this is a way to build. I’ve been involved as an organizer, as an activist, since I was 15 years old. I’m a builder. And this gives me an opportunity to build, on the Eastside and all across the city. So I’m running for council. I am not going to run for mayor in the next cycle. I’m gonna run for council, and should I, by the grace of God and hard work, get elected, I intend to be a council member for four years.

When you say you want to be a voice for the "other L.A.," what part of L.A. are you talking about?

The part of L.A. that’s been left behind, where violence is not only a public-safety issue but a public-health issue. And the part of L.A. that doesn’t have the city’s commitment to economic development. And the part of L.A. whose schools are dilapidated and falling apart. I’m not suggesting that you elect Antonio Villaraigosa and all this is going to change. I do, however, have a track record of tackling tough problems in the state Assembly: getting Prop. 1A on the state ballot, the biggest, most progressive school bond in the nation, moving the health families program, and the parks bond. We put together the most progressive parks initiative because it was focused on urban parks. Los Angeles is a city with less park space than any big city in the country, and I come from the part of L.A. that doesn’t have one-tenth of that park space.

What about your opponent’s inference that you are soft on crime?

I lost that last election in part because of refusal to demonize young people in this city. I am just as appalled by gang violence as Pacheco. But I do not believe that demonizing and declaring "war" is how you proceed. I think we have to be committed to a smart, tough, multipronged approach to fighting crime. And that includes a real committed, community-based police department and prevention and intervention programs. You’re gonna see me focus on public safety. It’s a real big issue in the community that I represent.

What about the criticism that, if elected, you won’t be bothered with taking care of the more mundane tasks that are part of a council member’s job?

I’m going to be paving the streets. I know that that’s part of this job. If people don’t think that Antonio Villaraigosa is gonna be focused on potholes and cleaning the community and providing services, they just don’t get it. I believe that this job is not just about that. It’s about having a vision for the city. It’s about creating opportunities to empower people to improve their neighborhood, ’cause council members and mayors and elected officials do not do it on their own. I’m 50 years old now. And if I have one strength, it’s that I’m still a believer. I still believe in the power of people to make a difference. Not by themselves — with an engaged community.

Why is it that incumbent Nick Pacheco should be replaced?

We deserve better. We deserve a leader who will work to empower this community, to create a vision for what our neighborhoods should look like, a leader who will stand up and demand that the city invest in a part of the city that’s been left behind. I don’t see outrage [from Pacheco] when you see 48 killings. I don’t see a commitment to a quality of life in this community. I don’t see an effort to bridge the different communities of the 14th Council District.

What do you think of new Police Chief William Bratton?

My impression of Bratton is, he is a leader, and the department needs a leader. I don’t think a leader declares war. I think a leader makes peace. I didn’t like his rhetoric initially when he got in here. I do think that I’m willing to give him some time. His rhetoric is supportive of community-based policing. In terms of his record, I’m concerned about the police abuse that occurred in New York. And I’ve said that L.A. won’t tolerate any longer that kind of activity. He seemed to understand that. I believe you engage people in reclaiming their neighborhood and you work with them to keep the streets safer and you develop a police department that respects that community and engages with that community.

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