By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Villaraigosa sat on a panel with two friends, former San Francisco mayor Brown and Chicago mayor Richard Daley, and, according to the academy’s Web site, talked about “the challenges facing the modern city.” He also handed out an award. The entire trip, which Szabo said was privately funded, was blacked out on the mayor’s schedule from Thursday, July 3, to Sunday, July 6.
Ron Kaye, the former editor of the Daily News, has a big problem with Villaraigosa spending far too much time on these kinds of activities, even as L.A.’s troubles with middle-class flight, overbuilding, bad schools and other quality-of-life issues worsen.
“He’s clearly enamored of running with an elite crowd. ... You have this poor kid from L.A., and he’s living the life of a rich celebrity. It’s a narcotic, especially in this town.”
IN FACT, VILLARAIGOSA is not like any mayor in recent Los Angeles history. Mayor James Hahn, although criticized for sometimes keeping banker’s hours and leaving City Hall by 5 p.m., hated traveling with an entourage and tended to avoid glitzy events, focusing his time much more heavily on city business. Mayor Richard Riordan was a hands-on problem solver deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of the city’s sprawling utility, parks, roadways and police departments, many of which he reorganized and reformed during his sometimes-contentious eight years in office.
The last time Los Angeles had a mayor like Villaraigosa, so focused on the glitzy trappings of the job, and so distant from the sometimes dreary work inside City Hall, was when an aging Tom Bradley held the post in the early 1990s. In his final four years in office, Bradley was widely viewed as a political burnout who had overstayed his welcome — he ended up using his position in those final years to attend a seemingly endless series of ribbon-cuttings, awards banquets and dinner parties.
Although Villaraigosa continually makes a big deal of his workload — during the subway ride on June 25, he told reporters he works “18-hour days, seven days a week” — he’s no Michael Bloomberg, the hands-on mayor of New York City, according to Villaraigosa’s ally, billionaire Broad.
“Let’s put it this way,” Broad says. “Would I be more comfortable with a mayor like Richard Daley or Mike Bloomberg? The answer is yes. But Antonio doesn’t rank at the bottom of the list either.”
Yet the 11 percent of Villaraigosa’s time that the Weekly has identified as being spent in L.A. on actual city work — running, fixing or shaping government policies and actions — reveals that he frequently spends that limited time huddling with special-interest groups who have helped him attain higher office.
“In the end,” says critic Kaye, “the big question is, ‘Who’s really using Antonio’s power?’”
If his schedule is any guide, the answer is powerful labor unions, special-interest groups focused heavily on identity politics and race, and, to a lesser degree, business leaders. Labor unions have showered Villaraigosa with money, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into his 2005 campaign, and now jumping in to fatten his 2009 election coffers.
During the 10 weeks reviewed by the Weekly, Villaraigosa virtually shut out the two most active groups representing the broad middle class, which is waging boisterous quality-of-life battles on traffic and overdevelopment: homeowners associations and the city’s 88 neighborhood councils.
Nelson, former chief of staff to Joel Wachs, says the mayor’s self-imposed isolation from such residents is in stark contrast to former mayors Bradley, Riordan and even Hahn. Bradley regularly held “Meet the Mayor” chats, where anyone could show up to talk to him. Riordan regularly appeared at town-hall-style meetings. Of the current mayor, Nelson says, “I don’t remember Villaraigosa ever doing it,” unless it was “once or twice after he got elected.”
However, in the 10 weeks reviewed by the Weekly, Villaraigosa did give rare one-on-one time to Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary/treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Tim Sands, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League (one of the city’s most powerful government-employee labor unions); and Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. The latter group, though purportedly nonpartisan, is, in fact, tightly tied to Democratic Party leaders, and took media hits for peddling a $30 Villaraigosa bobblehead doll on its Web site.
ONE OF THE MOST telling pieces of information in Villaraigosa’s schedule is what doesn’t appear in its 22 pages. Between May 21 and August 1, the mayor seems to have rarely met with Angelenos who do not represent racial, ethnic, lobbying or labor groups.
Jack Humphreville would love a few minutes of the mayor’s time. A member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, Humphreville sits on a group whose name is a mouthful — the Department of Water and Power’s Memorandum of Understanding Oversight Committee, ordinary citizens who watch over DWP’s rate hikes.
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