This is the transcript of Antonio Villaraigosa’s interview with the L.A. Weekly’s editorial board.
L.A. Weekly: Why are you running for mayor, and when did you decide to run?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I’m running for mayor because I took a good, hard look at where we were as a city. And the fact that there just wasn’t the leadership in this city. It just started from there. It wasn’t the leadership in this city that I think a great city like L.A. needs. I talked it over with my family, friends, and constituents, and decided to run. When? I really decided about two weeks before I announced it. I mean, I had been thinking about it for months.
L.A. Weekly: Did something in particular lead to your decision?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Absolutely, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) strike. I told Jim [Hahn], ‘Jim, they’re going on strike, we’re going to have gridlock. I’ve been through one of these before. We can’t let this happen.’ I said, ‘You have to get these guys to sit down.’ He said, ‘What do I do?’ I said, ‘You get them to sit down and talk. You get them to work this out. You tell them, ‘I need you to have a cooling period.’ We brought them in. He agreed to do it. I had to take over the meeting. I used some profanity, and was kind of colorful in my negotiations. I just had to sit everybody down and say, ‘We can’t go out on strike.’ We got them this close, and Jim didn’t join me. He kind of just left me hanging out there. I had to with (Councilmember) Martin Ludlow file a lawsuit, and get an injunction. I asked him to join me and he said ‘No, you guys do it, I’ll follow it.’ I won the injunction. When I walked out of that courthouse, I called him up and I said, ‘Jim, let’s have around the clock negotiations.’ He said he didn’t have time and for me to call him when we got close. Seventy-two hours later I settled that strike. That was a seminal moment for me. I just saw that this guy does not have the wherewithal or the energy. He didn’t do it because he was afraid he was going to fail. I was afraid I was going to fail too. But in a job like this you can’t be afraid to fail. That was when it became clear. (LAPD Chief William) Bratton was his shining moment, without question. I would have done the same thing. But I wasn’t serving with him then, I was serving with him on the MTA board, and I saw a guy missing in action. Then we began to see one scandal after another. Over time, it became crystal clear that this guy isn’t willing to take responsibility for the acts of his subordinates. I realized that when I saw all these candidates in the race. I didn’t think any of them, with all due respect for them, could beat Jim Hahn.
L.A. Weekly: As Jim Hahn now has the endorsement of labor, might it not be particularly difficult to defeat him?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: It’s going to be harder, no question about it; I’m running against an incumbent. I’m not here to spin you; I’ve seen him on the campaign trail. He’s a better speaker, more confident, he’s going to be tough, no question about it. They just don’t have a bottom line. They’re going to say and do anything to get elected; it’s going to be a very tough race. But I’ve got into this race very soberly. Do I have a tough, long haul to go? I do. The object here is to get out of …the primary. To beat him in the runoff. And, very, very importantly, beat him in the last days. I beat him in the primary. I beat him in the runoff, but I lost the 10 days. I feel sober about how difficult this race is. I would have loved to have the labor endorsement. I fought for it. But, I voted against LAX expansion. I voted against Playa Vista. I didn’t get one single building trade as a result. That was tough to overcome.
L.A. Weekly: In the last race Hahn put together a kind of coalition of convenience…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Of the willing.
L.A. Weekly: How do you expect to fair against Hahn regarding the African-American community?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, that’s precisely my calculation. The polling indicates, even with the endorsement, I’m winning 56% of labor households, to 36%…
L.A. Weekly: Which poll?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: … in a runoff. In our internal polls that we did that have been very accurate up to now.
L.A. Weekly: What was that number?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Fifty-six to 36 in a runoff, one on one, against me and Jim. And the rest undecided. Secondly, part of our calculation here is, Jim beat me by six points. Jim beat me by six points, getting 80% of the African-American vote. Going into the runoff, we’re basically 50-50, and that’s without all the endorsements that I’m going to get. I believe that I’m going to get virtually every major endorsement in the African American community.
L.A. Weekly: Why?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: …respectful to them, and, but I can say that with confidence that I’m virtually going to get every single endorsement.
L.A. Weekly: Do you think you’re running 50-50 then?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No, in the runoff, not right now.
L.A. Weekly: No, if he…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: (Councilmember Bernard) Parks’ getting a lion’s share right now. He’s getting about 55% of the African-American vote, and Jim and I are splitting the rest. I lost by 40,000 votes, 36,000 of them in the absentee ballot, 4,000 on Election Day. Twenty-seven thousand of the 40,000 came from two districts, the eighth and the 10th. I just don’t think the eighth and the 10th are going to deliver for Jim Hahn in the way they did four years ago. I don’t think you can demonize a guy twice. Sam Yorty did it the first time very successfully against Tom Bradley. The second time it fell like a dud, it didn’t work. Go back to your history. In the first race, Bradley had 5,000 votes and 5,000 volunteers. So did I. Now he didn’t have 10,000, he had five. In the second race, he had half of that, and he won. I just don’t believe that you demonize a guy twice. People may walk out of this room and say, he’s smart, he’s not so smart, I like him, I don’t like him. I know this wouldn’t be necessarily emblematic of Los Angeles, but, my sense is right now, going into the Valley and South Los Angeles, people are a lot more comfortable with Antonio Villaraigosa.
L.A. Weekly: What kind of election will it be for liberal Los Angeles, if there’s the particular type of runoff scenario between you and Jim Hahn that you envision?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Look, I know people, people do things out of self-interest, they do things out of opportunity, they do things for a lot of reasons. I’m a big kid; I’m going to have to work with everyone. Including the people that weren’t with me. In fact, that’s always been a strength. I’m going to work with labor, of course. I mean I’m passionate about the right to collective bargaining, and low wageworkers especially. I don’t expect there’s going to be difficulty. I saw it at the county federation breakfast on Martin Luther King’s birthday. I saw the reception I got. I’ve got people on Saturday at my kickoff on the east side, all these janitors and hotel restaurant owners were there. They’re coming. It gets dark. I mean would I have liked that endorsement? You’re darn right. I wanted it. Did I want the Democratic Party endorsement? Of course, but that one is going to be a lot tougher. First of all, there are a lot of labor delegates on the county federation. Second of all, I wasn’t running against Jimmy Hahn, I was running against five other candidates. So I had 97, Jim had 81, initially I had 83, Jim had 70. But, (Richard) Alarcon had 14, (Bob) Hertzberg had eight, and Parks had three. When it became just the two of us, a couple of them went with me, and a couple went with Hahn. It was unrealistic to expect, it was all Hahn’s, and to expect that I was going to get the labor endorsement. I got the League Of Conservation Voters. I got the California League. I’m going to announce two other ones very soon. Remember, they can’t do what they did last time. So it’d be nice to have…
L.A. Weekly: The campaign fund.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Yes, campaign funding.
L.A. Weekly: What is your strategy going to be in this election, in terms of the specific criticisms that were made of you in 2001, such as lacking a message?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: We’ll talk a lot about that. I’ve got a broader and deeper core base this time around, without question. More African-Americans, more moderates as well. I’m going to do better in the Valley than I did last time around. There are people really comparing that first debate, let’s be honest. The first debate I was flat. I just was. I’m going to do what I always do, do it from my heart and my head. I got better…I’m more than holding my own. They’re all smart people. Hahn’s a great guy. Hertzberg’s full of energy and is smart. Nobody’s dominating these debates. The goal here is to get out of the primary, and then be in the runoff. I expect that’s what’s going to happen. People are comparing the last few weeks, the last two weeks of the primary, and the last three weeks of the runoff with December 7th, or whenever that first debate was, or maybe the 2nd. Look, it’s a long way. Last time I lost my voice, I looked weak, and I was too thin. I didn’t look strong. I couldn’t debate him, and then I lose my voice halfway through. I’m drinking water. I don’t drink coffee anymore. I take Trilosec. It’s a marathon, man. It’s not a…
L.A. Weekly: That depends on who’s running.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I’m running, I’m running, baby. I work out every morning. Of course I did that four years ago.
L.A. Weekly: Four years ago you said people were afraid to vote for you, so who would you say they’re afraid to vote for now?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No, I don’t think they were afraid initially. I think there was always…I think what happened was nobody knew who I was when I first ran. Some of you did. Harold (Meyerson) of course did. We had a long relationship. I mean nobody knew who I was. When you are not a figment, but when you are a creation of a campaign …commercials, the movement…all the stuff around it, what happens is, it’s really easy to knock you out. Because people don’t know you well. It was really difficult to hit Jim because people knew him and his father for 50 years. I knew I was in trouble when they asked me at that first press conference, the day after the primary win. They said, ‘What do you think about Jim Hahn? And I said, ‘Jim Hahn’s a good man. I’m honored to be in the race with him. He comes from a long line of public servants. I look forward to a debate with him about what kind of city we want to live in.’ They threw up their hand and said, ‘Oh yeah? I just came from Jim Hahn’s press conference, and he said characters an issue, that you’re soft on crime, that you support child molesters.’ Man, I realized then that this was going to be a tough race.
L.A. Weekly: Do you conclude from that that this time you have to go negative in this campaign?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I think I said that a few minutes ago. I’m not a punching bag, and he’s got a record, and you’ll never see me engage in the kind of fear mongering that he did. I won’t do that, but he’s got a record to defend. And I intend to put his record out there.
L.A. Weekly: What is your proactive message?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I’ll tell you what I start off with almost every time I speak. I’m running for mayor because I believe that a great city is a city where we’re growing and prospering together…that a great city can’t leave so many communities behind. That a great city has to invest in those communities. That a great city has to reach out and connect to one another. People are saying that I have more things on my website, in terms of specific proposals, than I did last time around. A more specific housing policy. A more specific policy on public safety. I am not afraid to talk about poverty…and all the very important issues. I take umbrage with this idea that we’re not talking about some of the same things. Mostly we’re in debates where you guys ask us a question. You give us a minute to open, and 30 seconds to respond. You’re not looking for vision; you’re looking for a sound bite. It’s the truth. That’s what you’re looking for. We have press conferences on public safety. All you want to know about is something with Jim Hahn.
L.A. Weekly: What do you think would be the most important thing you would achieve?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I think the first order of business is to restore trust and confidence in our leadership. If I had to point to a concrete and specific agenda…I would focus on public safety, without question. If you want to see a difference from ….the point of view we watched over the last four years? I’ve been a council member. I go to every homicide. I’ve seen the ravages of gun and gang violence. I am absolutely committed to doing something about it.
L.A. Weekly: You went to 500 homicides?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I didn’t do 500, but I did almost all the ones in my district. I don’t go to everybody else’s district, but I go to the ones in the 14. I go at 3:00 in the morning. I am…
L.A. Weekly: The other districts have a lot.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: We have a lot. Actually, it is down from the year before, but it’s had a lot. I closed a crack cocaine house. Closed three bars. We’re going after folks. But I’m focusing on prevention and intervention. I did an earn and learn initiative in the projects. Kids came to me and said, ‘Look, we don’t have any jobs in the summer. You guys aren’t paying attention to the fact that it’s hot right now in the projects.’ I put together an initiative to have the kids in school in the morning and work in the afternoon. I was the only guy in the district who did that. I organized 80 neighborhood watches. In the whole city they probably organized a hundred in the last year-and-a-half. I did 80 of them.
L.A. Weekly: Something that might concern voters is that there have been a fair number of killings in your district, as when you ran to be on the council you criticized an opponent on this.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: But reduced from that period of time. You’re right, we have had, but if you go and compare…
L.A. Weekly: It’s a lower number.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I don’t know what the exact number is. But it’s somewhere between 20 and 30% lower.
L.A. Weekly: That much?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Yes. I think the next mayor of the city’s got to focus on the 21st century economy. We need a mayor who’s comfortable because this is the most diverse city in the country…in the world, rather. This diversity is not just a great thing for human rights and civil rights. This diversity is going to make us prosperous. This is why L.A. is so poised to be the economic engine in the 21st century. We have the largest population of almost every group that you can think of. In other words, the second largest Chinese population, the largest Korean population…the largest Mexican and Salvadoran population. The third largest African-American population. The third largest port in the world. The fifth largest airport in the world. The next mayor of this city has got to get this diversity, connect these people to their home country, and we’re going to be the benefit of the 21st century.
L.A. Weekly: Strategically, though, does this element of diversity really have weight with people, compared to Hahn’s owning the public safety message?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: It’s not the diversity. It’s the economy. What’s he doing to create jobs in this state? In his fourth year, the council cut business back because he has absolutely nothing to do with it. All he did was stand up and say he was for it, in the end. That has nothing to do with it, and that’s his business agenda? We got to start creating 21st century jobs. What is going to be my agenda? We just passed a stem cell research initiative. Three billion dollars of investments in bio med and biotech. You draw down those three billion dollars using Caltech, USC, and UCLA as an engine. To create a biotech, bio med industry, 8,500 jobs on the east side. Iit is the second, very important initiative on our part, to grow these 21st century jobs. Third, cut DWP…four billion dollar assets, in a city where we have the dirtiest air in the nation. We got the Mohave just down the way…the solar industry is ripe. This should be ground zero for the development of a solar industry…alternative energy industry. We have the Tehachapi down the way. This should be ground zero for the development of wind technology. We have all these overfilled landfills. We should be expanding our waste energy program here, using DWP as an engine for that. The next mayor of this city, rather than having these silly debates about…are we business friendly because we support inclusionary zoning?. Or, with condo conversion. These wouldn’t be such big issues to the business community if we had a mayor that was focusing on 21st-century jobs. Tthat’s the difference, that’s going to be a second priority. Third, I think you’re going to see a guy who’s really 1397518451 I grew up in the 1950s. I sat with my mom watching John F. Kennedy call on the nation to get involved, saying, ‘Ask not what the country can do for you, and ask what you can do for the country.’ In a year-and-a-half as a council member, I said I would engage people. I have 6,000 people engaged in service. When I’m sworn in as mayor of this city, I’m going to have 25,000 people all over this city engaged in service. I’m not the knee-jerk kid I was when I was 18. There’s a government program to solve every issue, I know we don’t have unlimited pots of money. You’re going to see a mayor engage people in rolling up their sleeves, trying to connect people who want to, you know, mentor a child or plant a tree. You’re going to see a guy who’s going to get involved to address the inequities in this city, and the lack of investment. Right here in the inner city we have markets. So, you’re going to see a guy who’s going to be aggressive about growing the economy, aggressive about keeping us safe, aggressive about engaging people in…a guy who’s not afraid to do the small things, but also the big things.
I’m going to focus on transportation. I’m going to connect that subway that ends at Western, and I’m going to connect it all the way to the ocean. If you connect it all the way to the ocean, it’s going to be the most used subway in the United States of America, the most cost effective investment in public transit anywhere.
L.A. Weekly: Did you tell Henry Waxman?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Henry Waxman is endorsing me.
L.A. Weekly: What is he doing about it?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Who knows? We’ll talk about it afterwards. Henry Waxman’s endorsement…I haven’t actually spoken to him on this issue because, you know, first things first, let me get elected first. But I guarantee you, I’ve got a great relationship with him, and I intend to lay out why this makes so much sense. Secondly, I’ve talked about connecting downtown to that white elephant called The Convention Center. Complete the Green Line to LAX. Take the Green Line down Lincoln Boulevard, connect it to the Exposition line, and get the Red Line that ends in North Hollywood. We need a mayor who’s willing to talk about this, not just about what we do with the 25 worst intersections. I’ll do all of those things. But also the big things we need to do, to move L.A. again. We’re going to lay it out.
L.A. Weekly: Do you want an NFL team here?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: That’s interesting, that was the same question at the Times editorial board. Let me just say that I would love a football team, but I’m not spending one quarter on a football team, and I’ll tell you why. That is one of the most ineffective economic investments…
L.A. Weekly: Right behind…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: …the only thing worse than that…if you were picking a team, it would be baseball because they have more venues, more dates. I’m not…
L.A. Weekly: I’m not a big baseball fan.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Right. And I’m not doing either. I think a football team that’s coming to L.A. is going to have to come on our terms. I want one but I’m not going to pay for it.
L.A. Weekly: Where do you stand on the sales tax, which you did support but now seem to oppose?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Let me tell you what…
L.A. Weekly: Are you now opposing the tax?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No, no, no, no, no. That’s absolutely a fair question. Look, right now when part of what we’re investing, part of what’s important about measures…part of what Measure A tried to address was not just the need for more police officers, but also the need for the deputies, which you need in that county jail. I know because we’ve been busting a lot of these guys. If you go in for a misdemeanor or a light felony, you’re out in a couple of months you’re doing like, a fraction of your…
L.A. Weekly: Overcrowding.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: …because of the overcrowding. Plus the dockets on the prostitutions are way behind. Sometimes these guys get let out because of that. Measure A dealt with LAPD, the sheriffs, but also the deputies at the county jails, the district attorney, and probation. There are all these guys that are coming out of probation. It’s not just cops. We need enough parole and probation officers to address a lot of these guys who are coming back… to keep them on the right track. Measure A dealt with the whole criminal justice continuing. Now secondly…
L.A. Weekly: LAPD?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Measure A was…raise the half-cent sales tax for the whole county. So it didn’t disadvantage the City of L.A., because we all compete together. Here in L.A., if we have a higher sales tax rate, people are going to go to Pasadena, Long Beach, Culver City, and those cities. I think we have to do right after we’ve lost on Measure A, we have to build some confidence. This election’s going to be about 30%, maybe 32% voter turnout. Last time is was 36, last time with all that stuff, it was 36. It’s going to be about 32% the first time. Republicans predominate in those elections, not Democrats. And Republicans don’t vote for a measure…for a half-cent sales tax. Howard Jarvis has already said they were going to be against it this time…they weren’t against it last time. But the difference this time around is: how are they going to raise the money? It took us seven months to raise what we raised. I think we raised three-and-a-half million bucks, or something. It’s going to be a lot harder. I think its just politics. Jim Hahn, who says he’s for this, put $10,000 bucks in Measure A. I did $500,000. So, what’s he putting it on for now? He’s doing it for purely political reasons. My fear is that, I’m going to get elected. If I don’t have the halfpenny sales tax down the line, we won’t have the resources we need for accomplishing…
L.A. Weekly: You’re not backing away from…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No, no, absolutely not. It will likely fail, and if it fails, the possibility of putting it back on is going to be very, very difficult. And I’m going to get elected mayor…I do care about what happens, you know?
L.A. Weekly: How would you go about making public safety your issue rather than Hahn’s?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I’m not going to be able to do that. I mean I am going to speak to public safety. I obviously see that as our priority. But I’m not just going to speak to that, I’m going to speak to the global economy, as I told you. I think that this race is going to turn on leadership. Everything I know from the poll on the focus groups that we’ve done, people aren’t voting for Jim, and not because of the corruption. They’re not voting for Jim because they just don’t think he’s a leader. I’m going to demonstrate that I’ve got a record. I’ve been a speaker…. I’ve done the big things, and I’ve been a council member. I’ve done the little things, and I’ve learned a lot as a council member about working for city government. Does this guy have the wherewithal to lead this city? I think that’s what people are going to vote on, I really do.
L.A. Weekly: What have you learned in city government?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: What have I learned? Well, I learned a lot more about all of this work that we…I’ve learned that planning and building and safety and transportation and housing don’t talk to one another. If we’re going to get efficiency out of this city, we’ve got to get a leader who’s going to engage people…departments to work more closely together. If you go on Hahn’s website, his whole policy is that he did $100 million dollars. I’m very surprised that not enough of you have exposed the fact that he’s never put $100 million dollars every year. He’s put $47 million dollars over years. That’s all his plan, I’m going to put $40…I’m going to fully fund the housing trust fund. First of all, I was the first guy to talk about fully funding the housing trust fund. He didn’t agree to it ‘til late in the second phase of the campaign. He’s never fully funded it. I’ve got a whole plan laid out, and to use surplus city land.
L.A. Weekly: Do you have documents that show that there’s $47 million dollars, because I can’t get anything out the mayor’s office.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Yeah. Yeah, we can, we can.
L.A. Weekly: Please do.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: We can absolutely do that.
L.A. Weekly: They say 100 million dollars, but they can’t show it.
L.A. Weekly: You’re saying it’s 47 million…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Over four years.
L.A. Weekly: Instead of 400 million.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Instead of 400 million. I’ve got an initiative that I think Democrats are probably going to be surprised at. I’ve got a faith, family and community initiative…using churches and nonprofits. If we are making it easier to build housing for anybody, it should be for the nonprofits, who are building affordable housing. My plan focuses on the nonprofit, and doesn’t just get the secular ones. But also some of the churches, ones like Menorah, like First AME, 1397518451 that are not only engines for economic development and revitalization in those communities. Housing doesn’t talk to transportation, which doesn’t talk to planning, which doesn’t talk to building and safety, which doesn’t talk to CRA. Getting all of them to work together is going to be the key to kind of really growing L.A. in a smart way. I’ve learned that nobody, I don’t care how strong you are, and I believe that I’m a very strong leader, can lead L.A. without being a consensus builder. You’ve got to get eight bolts around that horseshoe. You’re going to see me come and visit the city council. I’m not going to be sitting there on the third floor hiding in my office. I’m going to engage them. Right now you almost never see the mayor do that except for in the last couple of months, twice. You’re going to…
L.A. Weekly: I think he comes to the council and just nobody notices.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, maybe that. If I’m going to be a successful leader, I have to build consensus there. Jim can’t get four votes; he walks in with four votes. He can’t get seven votes on the MTA board? Shame on you, when you’re mayor, you …I sat with Tom Bradley. Tom Bradley got four votes, 1397518451 and, he did it with seven votes. He’d be asleep, honest to God, I saw him you know. He did sleep. I did love him; he’d be asleep sometimes. He really would be asleep sometimes. When you’re mayor you can get 1397518451 if you can’t get seven votes. So I’ve learned that. I’ve always understood that. If you’re going to do anything in this city, you’ve got to get council’s support for it.
L.A. Weekly: Why is it that mayors can’t seem to get these departments working together?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I think it is tough. I think there are bureaucratic barriers to it. But I don’t buy that Tom didn’t do it. I think Tom did it, and not all the time, and nobody will. But I think Tom did it, and I think even Riordan did it a little better.
L.A. Weekly: How would you differentiate your politics from those of Bob Hertzberg? Bob Hertzberg has said that you speak to the cameras and take credit for the work that he actually does.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, hey look. I tell you what. You got the electric machine, go look at what he did when he was speaker, and look at what I did. I think the facts will speak for themselves. I am not going to respond to that bait, I am just not.
L.A. Weekly: Oh, come on.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: First of all, I don’t expect to be in a runoff with Bob Hertzberg. Secondly, he’s a decent guy. I don’t think the biggest issue between us is ideological, any more than the biggest difference between me and Jim is ideological. I think the difference is a record of leadership. I think there is a stronger commitment to addressing issues of equity. I embrace this diversity, and I run with it. I believe in it. I believe it is a great place because of the vibrancy, and the contributions of the many different communities that make up L.A.. I think that if we’re going to take our rightful place, it’s going to be because we invest in more people, and grow together. I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I just don’t think he’s as committed to that as I am. I think the record speaks for itself. He’s a smart guy. But, I’m a smarter guy now. I think Bob has a great attention to detail. I think that’s his strength. He’s a very smart guy who focuses a lot on minutia. While that is an asset, I think what we’re looking for right now is a leader. What we’re looking for right now is a doer. What we’re looking for right now is somebody who’s willing to take on the tough challenges. I don’t believe that Bob is quite as equipped as I am to do it. Do I think he’s more equipped than Jim? Yeah, I’ll give him that. I mean, but to be honest, so is Bernard.
L.A. Weekly: Do you think LAUSD should split?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I don’t want it. We need smaller class sizes. We need more teachers who are well compensated. We need better training, and then we could hold more of them accountable. We need to invest in low performance schools. We need parents and teachers making decisions at the local school site. We need to say that a great state is a state where we’re really honoring our children. When I went to school in California in the early 1960s and the late ‘50s, we had the best public schools in the nation. Coincidentally, we were in the top three in per pupil spending. We can’t continue to under-invest in our schools and expect that they’re going to be great institutions of learning. I think breaking up the school district does nothing to improve the quality of instruction in our schools. Having said that, I do believe we need smaller schools, and smaller classrooms. I think that would go a lot further.
L.A. Weekly: Are you happy with cultural illiteracy?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No.
L.A. Weekly: What would you do to improve that?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Jim was going to cut cultural trade by $2.5 million. The council restored $700,000. San Francisco outspends us for arts and culture. I believe that in a city this diverse we need more support for the arts. Why? The arts lifts the human spirit, it’s a great unifier. You don’t need to be Black to love African music. Or Latino to love salsa. First of all, we’re not cutting cultural affairs, we’re going to move to be among the lead cities in the nation, with respect to investment. I think the way that we get there is going to be through public-private partnerships. There are a lot of people out there who want to support the arts, who’ll say, ‘hey, I got my X million, would you match me?’ I think we can do that. I’m a real big believer in the murals. I come from a culture with Rivera. Where people can lay out their vision for their community. I think music is so important for that. I love these community festivals. Art is really important. I think inner city art is great. Not everybody’s going to be great in math or even in academics. But some of these kids are talented, and they can sing and dance. We got to give them opportunities to do that.
L.A. Weekly: Regarding the meeting City Controller Laura Chick held at her house with Hahn’s opponents…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: You knew about that, huh?
L.A. Weekly: What’s going on with that?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I’m not at liberty to share everything that we talked about. But I think most of what we talked about was public knowledge.
L.A. Weekly: Why do you have more of a right to the information than the public?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I don’t, but because she spoke to me confidentially. If she wants to share what she said with you, she can do it. I can’t control whether she does that or not. I agreed to it. If you find that bothersome, I’m sorry. But, I chose to go to that meeting, just like all the other candidates, because I thought it was important for me to know, what, …I didn’t know exactly what she was going to tell me. She asked me to come, and so I came. And out of respect …most people would honor that. I don’t remember something not being public knowledge.
L.A. Weekly: Was your understanding of the scandal different after the meeting than before the meeting?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No, absolutely not. I can’t tell you what other people got, I didn’t get any of that. I’m assuming she gave me everything she gave everybody else. No, that’s what I’m saying, almost everything we talked about was stuff that I’ve read about in the paper.
L.A. Weekly: How would you characterize the pay-to-play at this point?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Growing, burgeoning. Um, unsettling, ….
L.A. Weekly: How much of that is the fault of Jim Hahn?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I don’t know, I don’t know. He put his fundraiser over the three proprietaries, with absolutely no experience, what did I do in my ethics class I’m going to appoint deputy mayors that have some knowledge. I’m going to appoint deputy mayors that know something about the port or the airport or DWP. He put his fundraiser over those three proprietaries that give out all the contracts. He began to read about these revelations early on, and denied it. He never did his own internal investigation. When you’re mayor you’re going to have thousands of employees. Someone gets charged with something, you’re not necessarily responsible for what X person did. But you are responsible for looking into it, when you read about it. They never did an internal investigation. I mean he didn’t work with (Controller) Laura Chick, he wasn’t cooperating with her. I would have said ‘Hold it’. ‘If there is something to it, we’re going to look into it, and we’re going to get rid of him.’ They never did that. They got rid of Troy Edwards and Ted Stein for one reason: they wanted to pass their Valley expansion plan. They knew they couldn’t pass it with those two guys. Simply that, there wasn’t any other reason. They waited, what, nine months to do it.
L.A. Weekly: Who’d she have in there with her?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Boats. I can’t, I mean, I’m not going to go through all that. I don’t think anybody knows about these indictments, or anything. What was shared was all the stuff that is public. But like, you know…
L.A. Weekly: It could involve the public.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No.
L.A. Weekly: There was quite a bit of…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No, no, no, it wasn’t. Most of what I remember is stuff that I already knew about. In fact, I think almost everything that we knew…
L.A. Weekly: There had to be something.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I just told you.
L.A. Weekly: Why was she holding the meeting to say things everyone already knew?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I have no idea. It may not make sense. But that’s what she did. Mostly what I remember was stuff that we already knew about. I may have not known about some of it, but you knew about it.
L.A. Weekly: What did you not know about?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I knew, it was like, an hour-and-a-half, I don’t, no, I don’t…
L.A. Weekly: What did you know about it?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, that’s a good question. I’ll give you some examples. She laid out how they put together the deal around the Staples Center 1397518451 community benefits, and basically laid out that that was a template for what we should be doing around the hotel. In other words, we should be protecting the public purse. That was a specific thing. I knew about the deal before. I didn’t know all the details of it. It’s been in the paper. I don’t remember anything that you didn’t know of, and it may have been…
L.A. Weekly: In other words, you think we should read through the audit.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I think the reason why she talked to everybody is that she didn’t want anyone to say they had something that other people didn’t have.
L.A. Weekly: What is going to be the breadth of your advertising campaign?
L.A. Weekly: Bob told us everything.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Bob’s not going to be in the run-off.
L.A. Weekly: We’re helping him write this. Are you going to do a big campaign for the primary?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I’m not going to just walk in to the runoff. I’ve got to have a campaign, and I’m going to have a ground campaign. I’m going to have a mail campaign. I’m going to have a TV campaign, no question about it. It’s going to be a positive campaign, like it’s always been. (Former Council member) Nick Pacheco was vicious and he got it. I was positive, and I responded. You’re right. I responded. I’ll respond this time. But I will be positive. I believe the best way to win an election is to inspire people. To bring them to you. We’re going to talk about me. Now, if he attacks me, then, there may be something for him. You know, but right now, I’m focusing on me.
L.A. Weekly: Is it true that you dropped out or were kicked out of both or maybe one, Cathedral and Roosevelt?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I was kicked out of Cathedral. I dropped out of Roosevelt. I went back. I went to school at night, and day, and graduated on time.
L.A. Weekly: Antonio, I have a soft ball for you, but it’ll piss you off. Since you promised before that you weren’t going to run for mayor, how do we know this time around you’re not going to be there for a little while and then, go off and run for governor, or senate, or something like that?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Because I had an opportunity. I really thought John Kerry was going to win.
L.A. Weekly: So did we.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I really thought that. When I left that convention, and announced the week after, I really thought John Kerry was going to win. I knew I had a shot at the cabinet. There was no question in my mind. You know, just none. I told people then. There is no job that I would rather have than to lead what I believe is the greatest city. I want to be mayor of the city of Los Angeles, period. I don’t think there’s anything more challenging and more rewarding than to lead this city.
L.A. Weekly: I’m sorry, I’m not playing games, but I need to understand, are you saying that you would have turned down the cabinet?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Oh, yeah. I made that clear. I wasn’t interested. I want to be mayor.
L.A. Weekly: Being governor would be pretty cool.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: No, not like mayor, think about it. Mayor.
L.A. Weekly: If, in Chicago, in New York, they can do something about schools, they can do something about public health; they can do something about probation, about hospitals, about jails.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Mayor Richard Daley’s never run for governor. (Rudy) Giuliani wasn’t interested either. You know, your mayor is, like…
L.A. Weekly: But in LA, they can’t do that. We got a mayor we…
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: There’s no question about it. It is going to be a challenging job, without question. But you can do a lot, if you’re a consensus builder. You got to build support. And I’m ready to do it. I want to do it. I really do. I want to do it.
L.A. Weekly: What do you think about surveillance cameras?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I’m not as concerned about it as I was before. Ten years ago, I would have been much more concerned. I am without question concerned about things like The Patriot Act. I do know that things like this could be misused. I do want to continue to watch it. I spoke up on The Patriot Act, and I do believe that America’s strength lies in democracy and in the rights that come with that under our Bill of Rights. I understand that it could be misused. I’m not saying I don’t have any concerns about it. But, I will tell you; I’m not as concerned as I was 10 years ago. When you look at putting up those cameras at MacArthur Park, when you have chaos like that, when you have absolute chaos in the way that you did there, drug dealing, and prostitution…just violence. I think neighborhoods have a right to reclaim them, and if they have to use a camera to do that, I’m not as concerned about that. Now, if we start proliferating them everywhere, then, you know…I think we got to,…we can’t just. We got to take an approach that maybe here, maybe not here. I wouldn’t buy the slippery slope argument on it, but I do believe that we do need to be concerned whenever we’re infringing on people’s civil liberties.
L.A. Weekly: Why did The League Of Conservation Voters endorse you and not Alarcon, who also has a very good record on the environment?
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I think it’s two things. But it’s better to ask them. I led the charge on fighting back the right wing and the moderate Democrats, when they wanted to curtail the AQMD. I had great Coastal Commission appointees. I put the coalition together. What was great about Prop 12 was not that it was the biggest initiative for parks and open space, it was the first time the environmentalists bought into the idea that environmental justice was a very important thing, and that if we were going to have a coalition of the willing, and a majority coalition for the environment in the future, in this changing demographic, we had to put parks where people were, and we had to address the inequities there. I think the difference was a question of leadership. None of us are bad environmental… none of us are Bush, you know. But, I think it has to do with the leadership I’ve done over the years. What I said with Bob, look at the record, and see the difference. Being smart is important. We’re all smart. Some of us are smarter than others, but at the end of the day you hire smart. We need a leader. We need somebody who can bring people together and build consensus. I’m not a kid on a college campus any more. I’m still a progressive. I still want to change the world. I still believe that one person can make a difference. I especially believe that engaging more people you can make change. I’m not suggesting to you that we’re going to end poverty any more than we’ve ended homicides in the 14th Council District. I think you’re going to see a guy who’s going to put 24/7, and put everything I have, other than my family, with you. I’ll tell you something. You lose an election like that, there’s two things that happen to a man, or a woman. I put everything I had in that race. I saw grown men crying, and I knew they weren’t crying for me. They were crying for what my candidacy represented. I knew this candidacy was not about me. It was about the hope that I represented. I’ll tell you something. I also learned something from that race. I learned that my family was a lot more important to me than I thought. I learned that my God was a lot more important. This is from a guy who is a progressive, and an ACLU, and doesn’t buy this idea that we lost these elections because we went to the left, and were for gay marriage. We opposed the war. We lost the election, so, I mean, my faith is a lot, it means a lot more to me today than four years ago, and I know what a big journey I have. I know this is a tough race. I know that it’s not going to be handed to me, but I absolutely believe that I’m going to be the next mayor of this city. I am indefatigable in my energy and in my belief that this city is ready, and that’s why I’m running.
This is the transcript of Antonio Villaraigosa’s interview with the L.A. Weekly’s editorial board.