A few days before Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gives his rousing, hopeful State of the City address, Laura Chick is pondering a future with a new leader ensconced in the richly appointed office on the third floor of City Hall. Chick, a hard-charging government watchdog and former L.A. city controller, believes the city badly needs a details-oriented mayor.
"The next mayor," Chick says from her home in Berkeley, "unlike the current mayor, must force himself or herself to focus on the workings of city government, not the glamour of being on an international stage, not the glamour of being seen with celebrities." Los Angeles "is not working well, and it will continue to get worse. It's a time to work with labor and management, to have a strong mayor."
Chick probably would have been the choice of many Angelenos to be the first woman mayor of Los Angeles in 2013, when Villaraigosa leaves due to term limits. But she won't be among the pack of politicos and tycoons angling to follow the man whom some will best remember for cheating on his wife, Corina, or illegally accepting what turned out to be more than $50,000 in free tickets to sporting and glitzy events.
Democratic political consultant Bill Carrick says, "It feels a lot like '93," when Republican multimillionaire Richard Riordan outpaced two dozen competitors and pledged to be "tough enough to turn Los Angeles around" in the wake of the Rodney King riots, a nasty recession and a punctured housing bubble. As in 1993, Carrick says, 2013 looks to be "a large field with a lot of good candidates" — with an electorate uneasy over stubborn unemployment and degraded home values.
The known candidates are businessman and Valley activist Y.J. "Jay" Draiman; city controller and former Councilwoman Wendy Greuel; conservative radio host and former assistant U.S. attorney Kevin James; and 9th District City Councilwoman Jan Perry. Wealthy investment banker Austin Beutner recently quit his job as first deputy mayor to explore a run, and was promptly endorsed by Riordan. Other possible candidates are billionaire Rick Caruso, L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, state Sen. Alex Padilla and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's name is bandied about, largely because nobody who has announced for the race is an obvious front-runner. But Yaroslavsky — who since 1988 has been mentioned as mayoral material, and for almost as long has been uninterested in the job — is clearly the man to beat if he runs.
"Zev would be a formidable candidate," says former Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, president of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners. "One of the reasons Zev may be taking his time to decide is that he'll be perceived as the front-runner. So he'll be targeted as such."
Yaroslavsky can claim to be nearly the opposite of L.A.'s playboy mayor, who, the Weekly has reported, spends the majority of his working hours on self-promotion and minutia, with little attention paid to serious mayoral duties or policy work. "To me, [Yaroslavsky] shines as a public servant," says Chick, who has worked with both men. "He's never been lazy."
Yet former California State Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who, along with incumbent James Hahn, lost to Villaraigosa in the 2005 mayoral battle, says all the candidates must prepare for the unusual political realities of 2012. "There are a lot of unique forces at work here," Hertzberg says. The presidential race unfolds a few months before the 2013 mayoral election and, as usual, it will drain money and energy from wealthy contributors such as labor unions and business interests.
But there's a major new twist in 2012 — two, in fact. The California Democratic and Republican parties will be working feverishly to grab or maintain seats in the state Legislature in November 2012, thanks to two voter reforms that take aim at entrenched incumbents, who dominate both political parties: One is a citizen commission charged with wiping out the "safe seats" system created for incumbents through gerrymandering. The other reform is the new "open primary" system, which lets voters choose from any party they wish, then forces a runoff between the top two vote-getters — even if they're from the same party.
As Angelenos head to the polls on March 5, 2013, the economy may still be lagging. "The public is going to demand more than just platitudes like 'fixing potholes,' " Hertzberg says. "The politicians who play that regular game are going to be suspect. Voters will want someone who is serious — a real, serious worker."
Labor unions, which can pour millions into the race and send thousands of union rank and file to knock on doors and call voters, won't be eager to pick sides and alienate other union-tied mayoral candidates until after the March primary. A runoff is highly likely, with two finalists facing each other on May 21, 2013.