Antonio Villaraigosa's Quest for Wall Street, Washington and Wealth | Features | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Antonio Villaraigosa's Quest for Wall Street, Washington and Wealth 

Thursday, May 23 2013

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On Sept. 20, 2012, the mayor dined with Democratic strategist Garry South at Celestino Drago's downtown Drago Centro, across from the landmark Central Library, where South suggested Villaraigosa would be an excellent candidate for governor. "We're going to have a Latino governor sooner rather than later," South tells the Weekly. "It's inevitable. It's just a matter of who it's going to be."

South says Villaraigosa probably wants to "make some money. ... He's been living on an elected official's salary since 1994."

Many in the city's political class think that Villaraigosa, who torpedoed his marriage by carrying on a secret affair with TV journalist Mirthala Salinas, has been constrained by his public pay. California state senator and former L.A. City Council president Alex Padilla, who hopes to become L.A. mayor one day, says, "He deserves to be [financially] comfortable, to focus on himself and to be concerned about retirement and taking care of his family."

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY NANETTE GONZALES - Rev. Alice Callaghan, center, says Villaraigosa abandoned the poor, joining the "monied interests."
  • Rev. Alice Callaghan, center, says Villaraigosa abandoned the poor, joining the "monied interests."

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Villaraigosa lives far better than Gov. Jerry Brown, and more showily than any modern L.A. mayor, including multimillionaire Richard Riordan. The Weekly's 2008 investigation revealed that Villaraigosa left L.A. 10 times in a 10-week period, flying to London, Hawaii, Israel and Miami, and attending the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver with a "security" detail — and a personal photographer. In his first four years as mayor, he hobnobbed with billionaire pals like grocery-store magnate Ron Burkle, pursued his taste for fine wines, expensive suits and attractive women, and generally had a romp in office.

Now, four years later, a close look at 15 weeks of his personal calendar from late 2012 reveals that Villaraigosa leaves town far more frequently than in 2008 and spends 15 percent of his workday on core mayoral duties such as dealing with policy, departmental and fiscal problems.

From Sept. 1 to Dec. 16, Villaraigosa traveled to 18 destinations, including Charlotte, Houston and San Francisco, and stayed at the luxury Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the Andaz boutique hotel in New York. He took a 10-day trade mission to South America, where he was photographed at the glitzy Forever 21 fashion show at the upscale Titan Plaza mall in Bogotá, Colombia.

Whether at home or on the road, others were there to cover the mayor's restaurant bills, air travel and hotels. The Willie Brown Jr. Institute paid $1,188 for one of his trips to San Francisco; the Academy of Achievement paid $4,573 for one of his stay-overs in Washington, D.C.; the Center for American Progress paid $2,937 for another of his D.C. visits; and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which Villaraigosa served as president from June 2011 to June 2012, spent $34,227 on his "airfare, lodging, ground transportation, plus reasonable and necessary expenses."

In the last three months of 2012, the L.A. County Democratic Party treated Villaraigosa to $391 in meals; Zenith Insurance picked up a tab for $414; the Breeder's Cup gave him $420 in tickets to its ball and other events; and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block gave him $154 in football tickets. President Bill Clinton even paid a bill — for $55. The personal and professional acquaintance who has known Villaraigosa for two decades says, "I'm told he has lived like a president for eight years, always driven everywhere. Which is pretty unusual even in this town of billionaires."

Good-government advocate Bob Stern expects Villaraigosa to be jarred when the flow of gifts, liquor, meals and VIP freebies slows, saying, "It's going to be a real letdown for him in July."

On Dec. 3, a couple of days before City Attorney Carmen Trutanich gave Villaraigosa a $50 lamp, the mayor got bad news about the Democratic National Committee job: Obama wrote on his Twitter account that he'd asked "Debbie Wasserman Schultz to continue her excellent work as chair of the DNC."

To many, this was no surprise. Villaraigosa had never gotten the hang of accepted chief-executive practices, such as holding department-head meetings to get a grip on key policy initiatives that, during Villaraigosa's reign, often went awry. People who attended the very infrequent meetings say Villaraigosa might spend an hour reminiscing about his own up-from-rags story. Remembers one official, "Then, with a few minutes to go, he turns to we gathered department heads and says, 'OK now. What would you like to say about your departments — how's it going?' "

Villaraigosa badly wanted an executive post in Washington. He'd traveled there repeatedly to sell Congress on his interesting 30/10 plan — an "infrastructure bank" that would loan Metro billions of dollars against future county sales taxes to build the Westside subway in 10 years instead of 30. When his 30/10 idea died, it was rebranded as America Fast Forward, and Congress finally provided limited funds for large metro areas. L.A. County is getting $1 billion. But Villaraigosa's dream — slashing by 20 years the epic time needed to construct the subway to Westwood by securing billions in upfront federal help — went down to defeat.

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