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Politics

Antonio Villaraigosa Named One of Capitol Weekly's Top 10 California Mayors

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Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM
click to enlarge Top 10, baby!
  • Top 10, baby!

Some congratulations are in order, we think, for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who looks to have impressed Sacramento journalists during his last six years in the city throne.

"By default, the mayor of Los Angeles has to be on any list of 10 California mayors," writes Capitol Weekly in its August 18 list of "10 Good Mayors in California."

Huh. Not sure what to think of that logic...

(Just because our city is second largest in the country, doesn't mean it would necessarily fall apart without a "good" king to run it. Fifteen of the nation's highest-paid City Councilmembers, with fat executive offices and taxpayer moneys to feed their respective hoods, ensure Villaraigosa doesn't fall far without a safety net.)

But beyond pre-praising him for the huge responsibilities that come with his job, Capitol Weekly finds that Villaraigosa has lived up to those standards, on the whole.

Here are the "Newspaper of California Government and Politics"' reasons for loving the L.A. mayor. And -- at the risk of finding ourselves on the psychotic end of another anti-Villaraigosa rant -- our reasons for bewilderment:

Villaraigosa is a major California political player -- he was a power in the Legislature as speaker and he's run Los Angeles for six years. He's also currently president of the United States Conference of Mayors, a less-than-exciting job but one that keeps his national contacts alive.

For Villaraigosa, unfortunately, this job is more exciting than running Los Angeles. He can be found in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. more than City Hall, these days -- lobbying President Obama for public-transit grants or pulling heartstrings with a speech on K-12 reform.

Yet here in L.A., trains are hitting insurmountable roadblocks in the form of citizens/businesses who don't want tracks through their backyards, and the schools he's tried to overhaul are somehow doing even worse than their old-fashioned, underfunded district counterparts. His national contacts are more than alive; in fact, they're flourishing, to the point of overshadowing his hometown duties.

Villaraigosa is forced out of office next year by term limits, so there is obvious speculation about what he'll do next. He isn't saying, but he tossed a few bones to reporters this week at the Press Club, when he took some shots at Jerry Brown, suggesting that the incumbent governor is too timid to take on Proposition 13. Villaraigosa, 58, who rose through the ranks as a labor organizer before he reached public office, made a sizeable splash, and he appeared to be laying a little political groundwork.

A little? Like we said above -- laying "political groundwork" has been the mayor's biggest motivator, these last few years at the (abandoned) helm of a crumbling Los Angeles. And the hypocrisy here is startling: He's criticizing Prop. 13 for stealing possible public-school funds, yet recently refused to give up Community Redevelopment Agency funds for the same purpose. Smooth.

His accomplishments as mayor - this is an area of hot controversy - are overshadowed by assorted ethics issues that, remarkably, haven't seemed to stop Villaraigosa.

In 2007, he was accused of 31 violations of campaign finance laws stemming from his race for the City Council four years earlier. They were ultimately resolved, but the after taste of those violations lingered. Last year, he got into trouble for not reporting his acceptance of dozens of prized tickets to sporting events, concerts and the like. According to news reports, the tickets included 13 passes to Lakers' games valued at $3,100 each, and tickets to the Governor's Ball and the Academy Awards.

He filed for divorce from his wife in 2007 after it was widely reported that he had an alleged affair with a local television reporter. Rumors also had whirled around the Capitol about Villaraigosa during his years in Sacramento.

So not giving a crap about ethics violations -- even paying off one's fines with donations from other bedfellows -- is considered "remarkable," now?

But despite the baggage, Villaraigosa clearly remains a serious political contender for state or federal office.

Watch out, world. And don't say we didn't warn you.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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