Zev Yaroslavsky Will Replace Antonio Villaraigosa as Mayor, Experts Predict
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.
Of the three elected City Hall insiders who have long eyed Villaraigosa's job, only Garcetti has not announced his candidacy for mayor. Like the other two, Greuel and Perry, Garcetti needs big-money special-interest groups to back him early on. Each day that passes without initiating such fundraising adds risks for any candidate not rich enough to underwrite his own campaign.
Says Miscikowski, "They need some showing of fundraising accomplishments by the end of this year."
Whoever joins the pack vying to replace Villaraigosa will be taking the ride of their political lives in what could turn out to be a chaotic free-for-all. Says Hertzberg, "It's going to be one for the history books."
L.A. Weekly asked six political veterans to rank, from 1 to 10, the chances of eight official and possible candidates becoming mayor in 2013. A hands-down winner scores a 10, while someone with no chance of becoming mayor gets a 1.
We also asked the veterans: Who has the skills to handle the budget and unions; what will their critics say if they run; how well will each do with fundraising; and which Villaraigosa mistake is each most likely to repeat?
The six experts weighing in are Frank Gilliam, a political science and public policy professor and dean of UCLA's School of Public Affairs; Ron Kaye, former Los Angeles Daily News editor turned political blogger and activist; Matt Klink, a Republican political strategist; Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.; Richard Riordan, former mayor; and Garry South, a Democratic political strategist. [Note: Kaye refused to rank anyone higher than a 4, saying things are too volatile. Two weeks after participating, Riordan endorsed unannounced candidate Beutner.]
Austin Beutner co-founded investment banking firm Evercore Partners. He suffered a near-fatal biking accident in 2007 and re-examined his life. A little more than a year ago, Beutner went to work for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as "jobs czar," with an annual salary of $1. Soon, Villaraigosa appointed Beutner interim general manager of the troubled Department of Water and Power. Now he's exploring a mayoral run. Was the gig just a quick tutorial on city government, to help beef up his political résumé? Beutner is married with four children and has lived in Los Angeles for more than 10 years.
Beutner is tied for fourth in the field of eight.
Gilliam gives him a 7, saying Beutner is "my dark-horse candidate. He has just enough experience to understand how the city works ... smart, smart guy." Critics will describe Beutner as a "hatchet man" intent on cutting city government. "He's seen really up-close what Antonio has done wrong, and he won't repeat that."
Kaye gives him a 1. "He isn't political at all. He has no instinct for politics, as much as he would like to be mayor." Beutner understands budgetary problems, but "he's shown no willingness to confront the unions." Critics will say he's "lived off the failure of corporations as an investment banker and that he has no real enthusiasm for the public." But "I don't think he'll repeat Antonio in any way. He's not a playboy, he's not stupid."
Klink gives him a 7. Beutner's big bucks automatically make him a force. "He doesn't have a lot of name recognition," but can handle the budget and the unions. Critics will ask if Beutner "can relate to the common man."
Regalado gives him a 5. "He's an unknown to city voters. ... But he can fund his own campaign, and he can teach people who he is." It's unclear if he can fix the budget and deal with unions: "His real challenge will be to befriend the council and bring them into his orbit." Critics will say "he doesn't have any relationships to help make the city run."
Riordan gives him a 9. A friend of Beutner's, Riordan says, "He's exactly what the city needs. He's a very strong manager." He can handle the budget and unions: "I've seen him in action in downtown." Critics will focus on his wealth and research his investments. "Beutner would be the total opposite of Villaraigosa."
South gives him a 1. Voters won't take him seriously, nor is it clear whether he can handle the budget and unions. "Who is he? Apparently, rich," so he "can write himself a big, fat check." Critics will hammer him over working for Villaraigosa. "He gets tagged for all of [the mayor's] mistakes. You carry their baggage."
Rick Caruso is one of the "50 Wealthiest Angelenos" as identified by the L.A. Business Journal, and the developer of the Grove and the Americana at Brand. A graduate of Pepperdine University School of Law, he had a 2010 net worth of nearly $2 billion. Republican Caruso may hope to follow in the footsteps of Riordan, promising to be a solid manager and fiscal ward. He served on the Police Commission when it recommended Bill Bratton as police chief. Considered charming by some and arrogant by others, he is an L.A. native whose father founded Dollar Rent-a-Car. He crossed party lines in 2010 to back Jerry Brown. He's married with four children.
Caruso is third in the field of eight.
Gilliam gives him an 8. Caruso can "appeal to voters as a reformer and a successful businessman." But, "The same thing that makes him strong makes him weak — that he's a developer." Will Caruso be like Villaraigosa? "The mistake he'll make is vanity."
Kaye gives him a 2. "He's got unlimited money. ... He would be able to create a stir, and he has a reputation as a businessman who can get things moving." He can fix the budget and deal with unions, but critics will say "he doesn't know how to govern anything." Caruso's capable of spending $50 million, with other candidates looking to raise at least $3 million. He may repeat Villaraigosa's mistake of "being out of touch with the masses of people."
Klink gives him a 6. Caruso has "the ability to write himself a big check" and he's an "accomplished businessman who has served on city commissions." He can fix the budget and deal with unions. Critics will do heavy research into his career: "Business isn't always clean and neat."
Regalado gives him a 6. He says Caruso's "a contender" who has "pretty broad name recognition." He may have problems working with the City Council on the budget: "He's all about the bottom line. Any super-rich developer will have a tough time with the council." Critics will say Caruso prefers a top-down management style and can't "run the city by edict."
Riordan gives him a 9. "He's wealthy, so he can put money into the campaign. He's very brilliant and gregarious." He can fix the budget: "If he can reach the public, then the unions will know he's someone they'll have to deal with."
South gives him a 3. "The demographics [in L.A.] make it very difficult for someone who's identified as a Republican." Remember that "Riordan hit a window that's just not there for Caruso" — the post-riot desire for dramatic change. He'll have trouble on budgets: "It's not clear to me that a Republican has the ability to deal with the public unions." Critics will probe his developer background, "a huge liability."
Eric Garcetti was elected to the City Council in 2001 and became its president in 2006. A committed environmentalist who is widely liked, Garcetti is the son of former District Attorney Gil Garcetti and was a Rhodes scholar. He has acquired significant baggage as City Council president. The L.A. Times outed him for failing to make public a report revealing that a 2009 solar-energy plan would cost taxpayers $2 billion more than claimed. He shares with Perry and Greuel a track record of chronic council missteps, such as allowing a proliferation of digital and illegal billboards and medical marijuana shops. He pushed through the 2010 vote to close all 73 city libraries twice weekly. A Navy reservist, he lives in Echo Park with his wife. He is of Italian and Mexican descent, and speaks Spanish. There's talk that if U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman retires, Garcetti may run for his spot.
Garcetti is tied for fourth in the field of eight.
Gilliam gives him a 7. He is "positively regarded by most people," but "I don't know if he has the fire in the belly for a dogfight" like the mayoral race. He has the skills to fix the budget and deal with unions, but critics will target "the weakness of his record: no real, major accomplishments." He may have problems raising money in a field of candidates also looking to the labor union/developer axis for cash.
Kaye gives him a 1. "He's responsible for the state of city government — he's the City Council president." He can't handle budgetary problems or the unions: "Eric hasn't done it during his many years on the council." Critics will target his handling of L.A.'s economic crisis. Garcetti is "likable and comes across dripping with sincerity." But like Villaraigosa, "He'll continue the coalition of contractors and developers that control City Hall."
Klink gives him a 7. He describes Garcetti as "one of the smartest people to run for 2013." Also, "He's very charismatic." He will raise money from trial lawyers, labor unions, environmentalists and developers.
Regalado gives him a 6. Garcetti has "name recognition and is seen as smart." Yet, "Nobody knows how well he'll run in all parts of the city." Critics may call him "indecisive." He'll raise funds from environmentalists, developers and labor unions.
Riordan gives him a 3. "The public wants a strong mayor, and he will not be seen as a strong leader." He can't handle the budget: "He's too much in bed with the unions." He says Garcetti must avoid repeating Villaraigosa's "narcissism of having to look good rather than getting things done."
South gives him a 6. "He's a very engaging, very, very smart guy." But critics will target his record. "He's had to make a lot of decisions as [council] president — and that's extra baggage." He's a "good fundraiser," but developers and unions may give to his rivals as well.
Wendy Greuel is the self-described "pothole queen" who succeeded the better-known Laura Chick as city controller. She graduated from UCLA and worked for Mayor Tom Bradley and the Clinton administration. In 1997, she joined DreamWorks' government and community affairs office. She was elected to the City Council in 2002 from the San Fernando Valley. The affable Greuel has made few enemies, but she's a close ally of Villaraigosa's. A debate continues over whether she is as tough as Chick: During the 2010 DWP debacle, when the city utility refused to transfer $73 million to plug a hole in the city budget, comments by Greuel and Villaraigosa helped fuel national coverage of L.A. reeling out of control. Married with a son, Greuel wants to be L.A.'s first woman mayor.
Greuel is second in the field of eight.
Gilliam gives her a 6: "She's well-liked and has a good reputation." But, "I just don't know if she has enough name recognition to be a player." If Yaroslavsky runs, "he has a lot of her territory" in the Valley. Critics will say she's "not really made a big enough mark."
Kaye gives her a 3. "She has a constituency among women. She's tremendously likable, and she's run for citywide office." But she can't handle the budget or unions: "She has been very timid with fixing the budget with the power of city controller. She hasn't said one word about the unions." Critics will target her "as not being up to the job of dealing with the [economic] crisis in L.A." Women, contractors, developers and unions will give her money. Like Villaraigosa, she may be shallow in her policies.
Klink gives her a 7. "Wendy is very in touch with the city of Los Angeles. She knows where the waste is because she looks for it every day." She can handle the budget and unions. Critics should take note: "She's tough."
Regalado gives her a 7. "She has widespread appeal with good-government types, a moderate Democrat." Also, "She has the skills" to cope with the budget and unions. Business groups, Valley groups and the rich will give her money.
Riordan gives her a 7. "People like her. She's capable of getting things done." At the same time, "She doesn't show the strength enough to get things done." Unions will ask themselves if she's the strongest candidate. "Are the unions going to pick out one person for the primary? It doesn't look that way from this list."
South gives her a 6. "There's going to be some interest in her because she could be the first woman mayor of the second-largest city in America." She can handle the budget and unions: "She should not be underestimated." But critics will research her many votes on the City Council. Unlike Villaraigosa, "She has the ability to learn from her own errors and the errors of others."
Kevin James is a gay Republican and graduate of the University of Houston Law Center. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, became an assistant U.S. attorney, and now is an entertainment lawyer and talk-show host at 870 KRLA. He has long worked on fundraising efforts for AIDS Project Los Angeles. He almost never talks about gay rights on the air but focuses on local issues. During the 2008 presidential race, James locked horns with MSNBC talk-show host Chris Matthews during an infamous exchange over Barack Obama and the Munich Agreement of 1938. James says he has pledges of $500,000 in campaign donations. He lives in Laurel Canyon.
James is last in the field of eight.
Gilliam gives him a 0. "He has no name recognition, and he can't buy it. He's irrelevant, quite frankly." He has "no idea" how to fix the budget or deal with labor. If Caruso chooses to run, James won't get much traction with Republicans.
Kaye gives him a 1. "He'll have enough money to be visible." But he could only win if there's a "complete collapse" of the city's political machinery. Critics will "hit him on his stupid interview with Chris Matthews" — but he might raise $2 million.
South also refuses to rank him. "Is there a minus-10 category?" Buying name ID will be very difficult: "It's a hugely expensive media market." Critics will research "every single thing that he's said on his talk show." Fundraising prospects look dim: "He won't have two nickels to rub together, unless there are a lot of gay Republicans in Los Angeles."
Alex Padilla was a rising star in L.A. politics when he was elected to the City Council in 1999 at age 26. Padilla had powerful supporters in Riordan and labor leader Miguel Contreras. Padilla soon became L.A. City Council president and in 2006 was elected to the state Senate. A graduate of MIT, Padilla is smart and personable. But his tenure in Sacramento has been low-key. Gavin Newsom tapped Padilla, once named one of America's "100 Most Influential Hispanics," to be chairman of his ill-fated 2010 California gubernatorial campaign. The son of Mexican immigrants, Padilla is single and lives in Pacoima. Despite Garcetti's occasional attempts to style himself as Latino, Padilla is the only big-name Latino in the field.
Padilla is tied for fourth in the field of eight.
Gilliam gives him a 5. Padilla's Latino background will "work against him. I don't see the city electing another Latino mayor" on the heels of Villaraigosa. Critics will "look at his relationship with the unions and they'll say he's in their pocket." He doesn't have the needed political stature to "galvanize the Latino vote." Also, "He's tied with the old labor left — as Antonio was."
Kaye gives him a 3. "He is Hispanic. ... He would have the single largest base of voters to draw on." But he can't handle the budget and unions: "There's nothing in his record to support he's tough enough." Contractors, developers and unions will give to him: "The money will come to him just so people don't miss out and make an enemy."
Klink gives him a 7. "Like Garcetti, he's been council president, he knows how the city works, he's Latino and he's from the Valley. It's an interesting combination." On the downside, he's from the Valley: "Starting with [Tom] Bradley, there hasn't been a mayor from the Valley." Fundraising is "clearly a challenge for him."
Regalado gives him a 5. "I'm not sure if he's really into it" and "long-distance running for office has always been difficult." He has the skills to deal with the budget and unions, but critics will say that as City Council president, "he wasn't seen as someone willing to make a mark."
Riordan gives him a 6. Padilla is "very good-looking, very articulate, but there isn't much after that." He can't deal with the budget and unions, and will have "average" fundraising skills. Critics may charge that Padilla "is not a doer."
South gives him a 4. "I don't think it's Alex's time. ... He's not that well-known outside of the San Fernando Valley." On the budget, "Alex would be a good negotiator." Critics will research his City Council and Sacramento votes: "You can bet a political researcher is putting them in a database right now." Yet opponents "should not underestimate his skill to raise money."
Jan Perry, according to the Downtown News, is the third most powerful person in downtown Los Angeles — ahead of potential and official mayoral candidates Beutner, Caruso, Garcetti, Greuel, Padilla and Yaroslavsky. She has a master's degree in public administration from USC. She's seen as the council member least afraid of taking on Villaraigosa — in contrast to Garcetti and former Councilwoman Greuel. Perry is closely allied with developers and recently pushed the City Council to approve two skyscrapers that will be wrapped in five-story-high, ultrabright LED advertising billboards — a controversial plan opposed by the City Planning Commission. Considered very smart and a policy wonk, Perry is single and lives downtown. She would be L.A.'s first female mayor and first Jewish mayor.
Perry is fifth in the field of eight.
Gilliam gives her a 4. "She's not much of a crossover candidate" and has "relatively low name recognition." African-American and Latino voters "won't be turned on" by Perry. But she may be able to handle the budget and the unions: "She has a lot of experience, but I don't know if she can close the deal." Her critics "have a long record they can go after."
Kaye gives her a 1. "For the same reason as Garcetti: She's had her chance to fix the city, and she's done little to nothing. ... She would struggle for credibility as mayor." She can't handle the budget or unions: "She's bent over backwards to please the unions."
Klink gives her a 7. "Jan can lay a claim as compelling as anyone for the economic growth of downtown Los Angeles. That alone makes her a compelling candidate." But, "She's going to struggle with name identification on a citywide level." She can handle the budget and unions. Downtown business groups and developers will give her money.
Regalado gives her a 6. "Jan has become the darling of the downtown business interests. ... She doesn't have to worry about campaign coffers." She can handle budget and unions, but critics will say, "She's too close to business."
Riordan gives her a 1. "She doesn't appeal to anyone outside of downtown," yet is a "talented person" who can handle the budget and deal with the unions. She'll have "below average" fundraising success.
South gives her a 4. "She may be the odd woman out." In a two-way race, Perry may do well, but in a large field, "she kind of gets lost." She can handle the budget and unions, but critics will target her "very, very long track record at City Hall."
Zev Yaroslavsky left the L.A. City Council in 1994 after 19 years and was elected to the County Board of Supervisors. He graduated from Fairfax High School and earned a master's degree in British imperial history from UCLA. Personally engaging, Yaroslavsky is often plainspoken. He has taken Villaraigosa to task for pushing "smart growth" and "elegant density," which helped wipe out a net 13,713 affordable housing units. A fiscal watchdog on the Board of Supervisors, he has allied with fellow Democrat Gloria Molina to hold the line on county government employee costs and perks. Seen by some as the smartest elected official in L.A., he's been married for nearly 40 years and has deep roots in the Jewish community. If he ran and won, he would become L.A.'s first Jewish mayor.
Yaroslavsky is the leader in the field of eight.
Gilliam gives him a 9. He enjoys "big name recognition" and will be able to "point to a lot of accomplishments." He "has tons of skill to work on the budget and work with the unions." Critics will say he's "more of the same," but he will raise "tons of money" from labor, Hollywood, environmentalists and Democrats. He might be "intransigent," like Villaraigosa, on certain issues.
Kaye gives him a 4. Yaroslavsky is the "front-runner" if he runs. He "has a capacity for detail that no one else has. He attracts very smart people around him, and he's tough. He has a following that cuts across many types of people and classes." He can fix the budget and deal with unions. Critics will question "how much he really wants the job." Yaroslavsky will "avoid anything that echoes of Antonio Villaraigosa."
Klink gives him a 7. Yaroslavsky's "one of the strongest politicians out there." Critics will call him a "career politician." The Jewish community will heavily fund him.
Regalado gives him an 8. He is the "front-runner." He is "not identified as a lapdog of any special interests." He will be serious about fixing the budget and dealing with unions. Critics may question if "he's up for the job."
Riordan gives him a 6. "He has greater name recognition than most of them." But he is "a critic, not a doer." Critics will focus on his long record: "Bad parts will be brought out."
South gives him an 8. He is the "front-runner." "He's extremely well known and well thought of." Critics will ask "if he has the fire in the belly." But he can handle the budget and the unions, and he has a "deep donor base." He should "make sure he doesn't come into office as a know-it-all."
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.
- Rejoice! Gas Prices Are Finally Coming Down
Wed., Aug. 5, 12:35pm
Wed., Aug. 5, 12:35pm
Fri., Aug. 7, 7:05pm
Fri., Aug. 7, 7:05pm
- L.A. Is Next in Line For the Olympics, But Can It Clean Up Boston's Mess?
- State Probes Alleged Foreign Donations in Porn