IN THE EARLY AFTERNOON of July 14, a week after quietly slipping home from a trip to Hawaii, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was halfway though a typical workday. He’d spent the morning doing interviews on two Latino radio stations, his picture was taken with an old friend, Juan Alvarez, he met with major labor union insider Sean Harrigan, he lunched with his staff, he was prepped by aides on what to say at an upcoming press conference urging Angelenos to vote for higher taxes, and he held a meeting to discuss one of his persisting embarrassments as mayor — his failure to plant a promised “one million trees,” or even a fraction of them, in Los Angeles.
As he began his closed-door meeting to review the million-trees fiasco, a loose coalition of angry community activists billing themselves as the Save L.A. Project stood on the steps of City Hall, venting frustration over the Los Angeles Unified School District, the mayor’s stiff new rate increases on Angelenos’ utility bills, and a controversy over alleged backroom talks by Villaraigosa’s Planning Department “density hawks” about building yet another big-box project, this time a Home Depot in the Valley.
Villaraigosa’s spokesman, Matt Szabo, had the job of watching the protest so he could report back to the mayor, who has made his frenetic hourly pace and constant busyness the hallmarks of his first three years in office. After getting briefed for a carefully staged press conference scheduled the following day, at which Villaraigosa would urge L.A. residents to back a big boost in the Los Angeles County sales tax, he prepared for a special meeting at the posh mayoral mansion, Getty House, that was of pressing importance: posing for a statue of himself for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
At the hourlong “sitting,” Villaraigosa offered the Tussaud’s creative team the quiet privacy of his official residence, on the leafy border of Hancock Park and Windsor Square on Irving Boulevard. Three artists had flown in from London, meeting him at Getty House with boxes of fake eyeballs, hair samples and tooth samples.
Inside the historic mansion, they placed Villaraigosa on a stool atop a giant turntable and went to work, twisting him back and forth as they snapped photographs, took measurements and matched their anatomy samples to their real-life subject.
“He was approached,” says Jack Holland, an external-relations representative for Madame Tussaud’s, “and he was very gracious to cooperate.”
At a minimum cost of $200,000 per wax statue, the team needed to be thorough and precise, especially since the mayor is all set to become one of 80 celebrities featured at the new Madame Tussaud’s, opening on Hollywood Boulevard next spring — further fulfillment of the fame Villaraigosa avidly pursues.
Holland says the wax-sculpting team not only makes an exact copy of its subject but “is also able to discern the character and personality of a person, which makes our creations so lifelike.”
It’s unknown what the team learned about Villaraigosa’s character or personality. But the fact that the mayor so eagerly posed for a tribute to himself offered some telling clues.
Los Angeles’ mayor has not yet produced any results in improving schools, addressing greatly worsening traffic, keeping kids from joining gangs, cleaning the city’s infamously filthy sidewalks, halting patently illegal clutter like 10-story building ads and thousands of illicitly constructed billboards, or controlling his spending in a time of family belt-tightening. Since May of 2007, when a negative profile in The New Yorker, citing his “single-minded ambition” and “drive for self-aggrandizement,” shattered his press honeymoon and made his local media coverage look parochial and protective, Villaraigosa has been slammed for wrecking his marriage and has backed the wrong horse for president.
Time has become his defensive tool, and the mayor continually touts his rushing, 16-to-18-hour workday in speeches and media interviews to anyone who questions his commitment.
Yet his latest work schedule, from May 21 to August 1, which L.A. Weekly obtained from his office through a California Public Records Act request, shows the man has a peculiar way of using that time — which works out to 13 hours, not 16 or 18 per day. (Click here for "How Mayor Villaraigosa Spends His 16-Hour Days," by Patrick Range McDonald.) The document reveals that the mayor spends most of his working day flying in and out of town, holding staged press conferences, attending banquets, ceremonies and parties, raising political money and providing face time to high-powered special interest groups in a position to help his political advancement.
“No mayor has been out of town like Antonio, not in my time in Los Angeles,” says former Daily News editor Ron Kaye, who organized the Save L.A. Project rally in mid-July at City Hall. “And part of his game is to be buried in nonsense. ... He needs to get to work!”