Note: Due to a technical error, the full version of this story including the official responses below from Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo, were not included in the January 1, 2009, print edition of L.A. Weekly.
For months, many average citizens and members of the press wondered if Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was turning out to be mostly talk. He frequently held staged press conferences devoid of news, launched, with great flourish, initiatives that went nowhere and flew off to places like Chicago and New York to raise money for his own re-election. Several of his touted projects — including planting one million trees, dramatically slashing congestion with synchronized lights, identifying the Top 10 Worst Gangs, turning Pico and Olympic boulevards into one-way streets, making L.A. the greenest U.S. city, turning around the schools, or hiring 1,000 more police — had backfired, come up short or just vanished.
In September, L.A. Weekly delved into claims that the mayor was indeed busy — but not with a mayor’s core duties of improving city government or a city’s quality of life. He has claimed, to national and global news outlets, that he puts in strenuous 16-hour days in deep commitment to Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News and local TV news operations accepted that claim by Villaraigosa with little question.
The Weekly acquired copies of the mayor’s personal daily schedule covering a roughly 10-week period. We unearthed a jarringly different story: Villaraigosa spends just 11 percent of his time on city business — a fact that shocked many and turned L.A. Weekly’s cover story, “The All About Me Mayor: Antonio Villaraigosa’s Frenetic Self-promotion Leaves Little time for His Job,” into one of 2008’s most popular stories, picked up by media outlets globally.
That must have smarted, because on December 26 Villaraigosa lashed out at us in a Los Angeles Daily News story by Rick Orlov, criticizing L.A. Weekly for relying on his “public calendar” in which, Villaraigosa insisted to Orlov, much of his mayoral elbow work was not revealed.
Does this mean Villaraigosa keeps two books — one showing that he barely does any real work, as we reported to his chagrin in September, and one showing that he does plenty of real city business? Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo responds to us that the mayor “misspoke” to Orlov and the Daily News. Szabo says we have the real, accurate, full mayoral schedule. There is no other.
And what of Villaraigosa's additional claim to Orlov that the Weekly erroneously reported he has failed to conduct the basic work of a mayor — we showed that he holds almost no policy meetings or department head meetings or other activities that make up the core duties of an involved mayor — because, as Villaraigosa told the Daily News, he conducts official city business "privately," and the Weekly was not provided those private examples?
Again, Szabo says, the mayor "misspoke." There are no other examples of the mayor conducting actual city business, he does not have any "private examples" to burnish his workday, and the mayor's private calendar, published online by the Weekly in September (see a pdf of it here) is accurate.
Our assessment of his roughly 10 weeks of work, much of which we independently confirmed and nailed down in 15-minute intervals, revealed a mayoralty unlike anything Los Angeles has seen in the modern era.
His schedule reveals that Villaraigosa uses the Office of the Mayor as a promotional and public-relations operation, with extremely little time given to policy considerations, meeting with department heads or otherwise focusing on core municipal problems. On the rare occasions when Villaraigosa focused on policy or the deep problems within many city departments, he often met with
He flew around the nation and world, held one photo op after another, and even sat down in the mayoral mansion, Getty House, so that Madame Tussauds could replicate his head for a wax statue — soon to be displayed on Hollywood Boulevard. Our sidebar, “How Villaraigosa Spends His 16-Hour Days,” broke down the facts, showing that he spends about 34 percent of his purported 16-hour day traveling out of town, and about 24 percent on what the Weekly finally dubbed “gap time” — time soaked up racing around L.A. to appear at photo ops, banquets, ceremonies, interviews and other PR activities.
Readers expressed outrage. Now, op eds and editorials in other Los Angeles newspapers frequently mention that Villaraigosa spends 11 percent of his time on city business or that he is running a mostly PR operation. He has continued a steady pace of non-news press conferences, ceremonials, luncheons, political fund-raising and out-of-town travel. He faces no serious challengers in the March municipal-election primary, but a job in the Obama administration appears increasingly unlikely, as Obama chooses such local leaders as Congresswoman Hilda Solis, Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Lisa Sutley and Congressman Xavier Becerra (who declined Obama’s offer). Villaraigosa is considering a run for governor in 2010, and would abandon his post as mayor if he won. But polls suggest that the mayor who spends so little time on city business has scant hope of beating California Attorney General Jerry Brown, or U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, if Feinstein were to run.
From “The All About Me Mayor: Antonio Villaraigosa’s Frenetic Self-Promotion Leaves Little Time for His Job” by Patrick Range McDonald
Together, then, the mayor spent 804 hours, or 89 percent of his work schedule, on ceremonial/PR, travel, blacked-out activities, gap time, fund-raising, personal issues and undisclosed “security” issues. On direct city business — such as signing legislation and meeting with city-department heads — his schedule shows the mayor spent 11 percent of his time.
“The mayor flies around the world like he’s on a reality TV show,” says a former California Democratic congressional staffer.