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Key Villaraigosa aide emerges as possible City Council candidate

January 19, 2012 | 10:58 am

Matt Szabo
He negotiated with protesters from Occupy L.A. who camped outside Los Angeles City Hall. He has been Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's in-house advisor on the city's budget crisis.

Now, Villaraigosa's Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo is being talked up as a possible contender for a different job: member of the City Council. That rumor has taken firm hold over the last several weeks among political consultants, council staffers and others who follow city government. And Szabo, who lives in the district represented by Councilman Eric Garcetti, would not preclude the possibility of a run in 2013 when asked by The Times.

“I haven’t ruled out anything,” said Szabo, appearing at a reception Wednesday for Gov. Jerry Brown. “But now’s not the time to be thinking about that. We face immediate challenges, like balancing the budget. That is a lengthy process and I need to oversee that. What I do next I’ll think about in the next several months.”

Asked if he had told his boss that he has been thinking about a possible council candidacy, Szabo responded: “I’m going to keep that private.”

Villaraigosa Deputy Mayor Sarah Sheahan had no comment.

Szabo, 35, moved last summer from his home in West Hollywood, which is outside the city of Los Angeles, to a Hollywood apartment in Garcetti's district. Szabo, who earns nearly $165,000 annually, said he did so because he wanted to live closer to the subway.

Garcetti is running for mayor in 2013 and five people – including Garcetti aide Mitch O’Farrell -- have stepped forward to run for the seat, which stretches from Hollywood to Echo Park and Atwater Village. But the boundaries of that district could change once the process of redistricting concludes later this year.

Even in the midst of a major budget crisis, Szabo has been popular with labor leaders at City Hall, who have had to accept layoffs and furloughs. At one point, Szabo questioned whether layoffs were a cost-effective way to deal with the crisis.

Szabo got his start in the administration of Mayor Richard Riordan in 2000, working as a low-level aide. He joined the office of then-City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel in 2002 and served as spokesman for the mayoral campaign of former Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg in 2004 and 2005. He joined Villaraigosa’s team the following year, rising from spokesman to deputy mayor to one of two deputy chiefs of staff.

Asked why he would want to run for City Council, a body that has exasperated Villaraigosa during his tenure, Szabo said those are not questions he was ready to answer.

“That is not what I’m thinking about now. There is plenty of time to be thinking about that later.”


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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Matt Szabo talks with city employees in 2009. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.