Yaroslavsky argued that the county had done a better job of managing its labor negotiations, giving only a three-year contract with 3% increases, compared to the five-year contract with 5% increases signed by the city in 2007. When the recession hit, the city laid off workers and deferred the increases, but they will begin to come due this year.
Whoever is elected, "That mayor has to make that his bully-pulpit-issue number one," Yaroslavsky said. "Fiscal issues drive everything in the city. If you don't deal with the financial tailspin, it's going to end up sending you over the cliff."
The city's labor groups were not thrilled with the idea of Yaroslavsky running for mayor. We've heard rumors that some unions were planning to deluge him with negative advertising if he had entered the race.
Yaroslavsky said that such political concerns did not figure into his decision not to run.
"Any campaign for mayor is going to be bruising for anybody," he said. "It's fair to say I had as good a shot, if not better, as any of the candidates running. That was not in dispute by anybody."
In the interview, Yaroslavsky also addressed the question of the LAPD budget. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has made it a top priority to put 10,000 officers on the street, but Yaroslavsky questioned that approach, which he called "a political decision."
"The LAPD can do a great job with 9,750, just as they do with 9,950," Yaroslavsky said. "You can't hold anybody completely harmless. I know what's going to happen. (At debates,) nobody's going to want to say they want to cut a single cop. Somebody's gotta start talking turkey."
When asked if running against the unions would have made it difficult to win, Yaroslavsky rejected the premise.
"You're not talking about emasculating the unions," he said. "You're talking about making everybody a part of the solution... I think county employees are far happier than city employees. They're all working. They haven't had a cost of living increase, but they're all working."
Despite Yaroslavsky's evident passion for budget issues, he said he decided he did not want to be in public office for the next nine years. Instead, he said he plans to teach, write books, and work on international issues.
Some friends said they weren't surprised.
"Had Zev had the fire in his belly that would have been required to run, he would have made this decision a while ago," said former Congressman Mel Levine, a friend of 40 years. "I think he would have been a great mayor. Given the fact he hadn't come to the mountain over such a long period of time, it didn't shock me. I played golf with him last weekend. The subject never came up."