By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
OVER THE CHRISTMAS WEEKEND, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa came out against L.A. Weekly with guns blazing, claiming our September 11 feature story “wasn’t true.” It was the mayor’s first public repudiation of our investigation into his work schedule. Titled “The All About Me Mayor,” the article disclosed that Villaraigosa had only spent 11 percent of his time on nuts-and-bolts city business between May 21 and July 30. The mayor’s slam occurred during an interview with Rick Orlov, a veteran political reporter at the Los Angeles Daily News, who noted in his story that our piece “still rankles” the man who’s now up for re-election.
Villaraigosa also told Orlov, “They [L.A. Weekly] were upset because we only gave them my public calendar. They didn’t get to see what I was doing privately, with meetings here [at City Hall] or in other places.
Now the Mayor’s Office is backing down from some of those comments, with Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo telling the Weekly that his boss “misspoke.”
The most alarming statement made by Villaraigosa is that the Mayor’s Office “only gave [the Weekly] my public calendar. They didn’t get to see what I was doing privately, with meetings here [at City Hall] or in other places.” Those words lead one to think that Villaraigosa has two work schedules — one for the public, and another that’s kept tucked away from any kind of scrutiny.
Szabo now says Villaraigosa got that wrong.
“On that specific issue,” Szabo says, “the mayor misspoke. We provided the Weekly with the mayor’s one and only calendar.”
Villaraigosa blacked out some of his schedule before giving it to the Weekly, with all the redacted areas described by Szabo as covering three categories of activity Villaraigosa did not have to disclose, in his opinion: security issues, personal and family time and fund-raising.
In response, the Weekly tracked down almost all of the blacked-out fund-raising hours independently. That left a fairly small amount of blacked-out time, which Szabo reconfirmed on December 29 was entirely taken up by personal time, family time, security issues and fund-raising.
Asked on December 29, three days after Villaraigosa slammed the Weekly, if the mayor’s schedule failed to include “private” meetings involving actual city business, as Villaraigosa claimed, Szabo says Villaraigosa is once again incorrect. “The mayor misspoke” to the Daily News, Szabo says. “Every official meeting was listed on his calendar.”
With Szabo, the Weekly went through Villaraigosa’s attack sentence by sentence. The spokesman continually pushed the line that Villaraigosa is the “hardest-working mayor in America.” But when asked if he could point to anything that “wasn’t true” in our piece, the spokesman said he didn’t want to go through our long September cover story “line by line.” Szabo then immediately threw out his standard spin: “Mayor Villaraigosa works harder and longer than any other big-city mayor in America, and everyone in Los Angeles knows it.”
Fred Siegel, professor of history at the Cooper Union for Science and Art in New York City, strongly disagrees. He is an authority on the key urban issues facing U.S. cities, and author of The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A. and the Fate of America’s Big Cities. Siegel says, “Villaraigosa is not someone who comes to mind when you think of the hardest-working mayors.”
Siegel describes Villaraigosa’s reputation as that of “ceremonial mayor,” and cites Richard Daley of Chicago, Thomas Menino of Boston and Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, as the hardest-working mayors in the country. “Booker lives at City Hall and works tirelessly on delivering city services,” says Siegel, “which is the nuts-and-bolts work of a mayor.”
Villaraigosa also told the Daily News that our feature story “didn’t go anywhere,” implying that the public was not outraged by “The All About Me Mayor” and that other news outlets did not pick up the piece. In fact, the story was widely disseminated and has become a regular point of discussion in opinion pieces about the mayor in other media and other cities.
Talk-radio hosts John and Ken on KFI 640 AM devoted 45 minutes to the piece, reading excerpts from it. Doug McIntyre on KABC 790 AM spent more than one segment ripping into the mayor and mentioning the Weekly story to his listeners. The Daily News and Los Angeles Times both blogged about our findings, as did several well-established watchdog and city-oriented blogs, including Mayor Sam (at mayorsam.blogspot.com), CityWatch (at citywatchla.com) and Fishbowl L.A. (at www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlla). Readers left more than 150 comments on the Weekly Web site about the article and its sidebar, “How Mayor Villaraigosa Spends His 16-hour Days.” Dozens of personal e-mails were sent to this writer, all of them appreciative of the Weekly’s work. Quite a few of those e-mails were extremely tough on Villaraigosa.