By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
The journalists were resistant. They had flown across the Pacific Ocean and met with elected officials in L.A., and now Villaraigosa was expecting them to call out their questions as he walked ahead of them, glad-handing subway riders? They didn’t want to be part of such a staged political event. When Villaraigosa literally ran out of hands to shake, the reporters finally cornered him near an exit door.
Their interview focused on several specifics involving L.A.’s economic relationship with China, the mayor’s ideas for building an environmentally sustainable city, and his efforts to improve the public-transit system. Villaraigosa’s smile vanished. Not known for taking an avid interest in the day-to-day running of L.A., he looked bored, and his answers were sound bites rather than serious analysis. Within minutes, Villaraigosa told them he’d had enough.
Clearly unsatisfied with the shove-off, the Chinese reporters approached him again. Villaraigosa looked unhappy and stated loudly, “You have more questions!” — then provided them with a few brief comments. For all their time and expense, the Chinese reporters got less than 10 minutes of his time and fuzzy-sounding quotes. Their prized interview was a bust.
Another mayor might have rolled out the red carpet for these rare visitors, whose stories would be read by quite a few movers and shakers in a major import-export market for Los Angeles. But the mayor was a busy man that Wednesday. At noon, he was expected at the law office of Park & Velayos, where a wealthy real estate developer, David Chang, co-hosted a $1,000-per-person fund-raiser for Villaraigosa’s re-election. Then he would fly off to San Francisco for another fund-raiser for himself at 6 p.m., hosted by former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.
In fact, out of 15 hours and 30 minutes of scheduled work for Wednesday, June 25 — a day that ran seamlessly into dozens of other, similar days this summer — the mayor spent 50 minutes on real city business. He was on the go, but it wasn’t about running Los Angeles.
His actual city work that day included a 20-minute briefing on an upcoming Metro board meeting, one he must attend as a member of Metro’s voting board, which oversees the roughly $3 billion annual spending on MTA buses, rail and other regional transit. His other city work on June 25 included taking an “urgent” 30-minute phone call from his chief of staff, Robin Kramer, of unknown content.
The rest of that day went to his efforts to be quoted in the newspapers the next day, his push to get money from his donors, and his staged, feel-good activities — focused on himself. He spent two hours riding the subway and speaking at the Metro press conference and 30 minutes meeting press and neighborhood people at a staged reopening of the 109th Street swimming pool in a poor area of South Los Angeles. He chewed up several hours attending the noon fund-raiser for himself held by rich developers, and making the fund-raising trip to San Francisco.
In fact, as summer unfolded and the weeks wore on, Villaraigosa spent surprisingly little time focused on real city problems. He did hold several meetings and candidate interviews related to his new, as-yet-untested gang-reduction program. But in the weeks leading up to his takeover of 10 low-performing LAUSD schools, he met for only a half-hour each with school-board president Monica Garcia and deputy superintendent Ramon Cortines. No entries indicate any meetings with Marshall Tuck, CEO of the mayor’s Partnership for L.A. Schools, which is directing the takeover.
The work schedule obtained by the Weekly from the mayor’s office is heavily blacked out to cover over his fund-raising and what his aides call personal time and family-security-related issues. For example, all 18 fund-raisers Villaraigosa scheduled for himself between May 21 and July 1 are redacted with a black marker, including all details of his San Francisco and downtown L.A. fund-raising events on June 25.
When asked why the mayor blacks out large portions of his days, Szabo wrote back in an e-mail that the “redacted items are either personal, family or security-related” and cited a legal ruling allowing politicians to black out such information. However, he then gave another reason, saying he blacked out the fund-raisers because “this office doesn’t manage the mayor’s political affairs.” Szabo did not respond to a follow-up e-mail from the Weekly on how Villaraigosa defines those three blacked-out categories. Villaraigosa, who now carefully limits media interviews on controversial issues, did not respond to phone calls from the Weekly seeking his comment.
But certainly his fund-raising trip to San Francisco is a public matter, not a private one, as it was covered by the media. Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, says Villaraigosa and the mayor’s office are on shaky ground by issuing a heavily blacked-out calendar. “[Fund-raisers] are part and parcel in his attempt to get re-elected,” says Scheer, “and that’s a very public matter. And he’s attending fund-raisers where people are doing business with the city, which is also a very public matter. The argument that it’s not isn’t plausible.”