As Villaraigosa's star rises, problems at home could hurt him
As Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa prepares for a major role in this week's Democratic National Convention, the nagging financial crisis at City Hall could complicate that ascent.
Back home, key Villaraigosa allies are warning that City Hall is on the verge of going broke. Complaints from neighborhood activists over reduced city services are growing louder.
And public employee unions, a force at next week's Democratic convention, are increasingly hostile to Villaraigosa. Some, angry over the mayor's efforts to roll back pension benefits, have likened him to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a lightning rod of anti-union fervor and a target of Democratic Party ire.
Last week, former Mayor Richard Riordan — a Republican who has endorsed Villaraigosa three times — raised new alarms about spiraling pension costs, declaring that L.A. is headed "deeper into financial disaster."
The mayor's top budget analyst warned that record-high staffing at the Los Angeles Police Department — a signature achievement during Villaraigosa's first term — is in jeopardy unless voters pass two new tax increases.
Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. President Richard Close, who voted for Villaraigosa in the last two elections, says Los Angeles is "in decline and without leadership" from the mayor and the City Council. Angelenos would fare better if the mayor, who has 10 months left in office, stayed put and used his skills to confront the city's problems, he said.
"He's running out of time to be the bold leader that he could be," Close said. "And to be a bold leader, you have to be in Los Angeles."
A spokesman said Villaraigosa's busy schedule did not permit an interview for this article. But in an email, the mayor said he is in constant contact with city department heads and is "fully engaged on the daily issues and the larger topics that face L.A." He defended his time away, arguing that national politics plays a huge role in securing money for housing, public transportation and other critical needs.
"When people ask me, 'What's the mayor of Los Angeles doing in Charlotte or Tampa?' I say it matters who's in the White House," Villaraigosa told CNN's Brooke Baldwin this week. "It matters who's in the majority in Congress."
Villaraigosa's prominent profile in the November campaign has given him a chance to expound on Medicare, the power of Latino voters, the federal deficit and appealing to what he describes as a "radical center" of the nation's increasingly polarized political system.
He has signaled interest in a run for governor, but has carefully avoided specifics, saying that he is looking to finish his mayoral duties on "a high note."
-- Kate Linthicum and David Zahniser
Photo: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa contends national politics play a huge
role in securing money for housing, public transportation and other city
needs. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times