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That testy Villaraigosa Q&A on football and the proposed AEG sale

September 20, 2012 |  1:25 pm

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa responds to questions Wednesday about the AEG sale during a press conference at Los Angeles City. At the same time it is negotiating with the city to build a $1.2-billion downtown NFL football stadium and convention center wing, the Anschutz Co., run by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, announced late Tuesday that it is seeking a buyer for its AEG subsidiary. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Officials at Los Angeles City Hall have been working furiously to reassure the public that a sale of Anschutz Entertainment Group will have no effect on plans for a new downtown NFL stadium.

Those reassurances resulted in a lively, and occasionally testy, Q-and-A Wednesday at the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who defended his decision not to inform his top financial analyst, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, of a potential sale until the day it went public.

Although reporters were called to the mayor's office to discuss changes to city pensions, the meeting soon became dominated by questions about AEG and when Villaraigosa first heard that a sale was in play. Villaraigosa said he felt no obligation, even after AEG’s announcement was revealed to the public, to discuss his knowledge of the details surrounding a potential sale.

And although the mayor likes to occasionally spar with reporters, the exchange was edgier than normal. Here are excerpts of Villaraigosa's response to questions from Los Angeles Times reporter Kate Linthicum and Los Angeles Daily News reporter Dakota Smith:

VILLARAIGOSA: Whoever buys that team is going to have to live with the contract we negotiated, and I am very proud of that contract. I can tell you, when you look at what football and a larger convention center will do, it will take us from a top 26 -- we were 26th in pension -- uh, we were 26th in convention center visitors when I became mayor. We’re at 15 now. We’ve been in the black every year operating-wise [at the convention center] since I’ve been mayor, but we can’t get beyond 15. This will take us to a Top 5. ... It’s a game-changer for us. So from my vantage point, I feel very comfortable with the deal that we have, and whoever owns AEG is going to have to live by that deal. And now you can ask your [question].

SMITH: You’re saying that whoever buys the team, or AEG, is going to have to live with the deal    that’s  negotiated. But [budget official] Santana never knew that AEG might be sold --

VILLARAIGOSA: I’m the mayor. I knew.

SMITH: Right, but perhaps --

VILLARAIGOSA: I’m the mayor and I knew.

SMITH: OK, but –-

VILLARAIGOSA: Let me be clear about something: I’m the mayor and I knew.

Mr. Santana, as you know, is probably the best CAO under the toughest -- he’s had the toughest job of anyone. He works for the City Council and mayor. And I can tell you he’s done a great job. I knew about the possibility that it could be sold. It was a possibility that it could be a sold. I’ve known that for some time now.

I've been trying to get a football team for a long time. I don't talk to the world about it every day. When I was in Denver, I think some people speculated, why was I in Denver to see a football game? I was working on football. I've met with Mr. [former NFL Commissioner] Paul Tagliabue on a number of occasions. I've met with Mr. Goodell [Roger Goodell, the current NFL commissioner] innumerable times. I've met with [Carolina Panthers' owner] Jerry Richardson. I’ve met with ... people who are looking to bring a football team. I'm not going to tell everybody everything we’re doing because we want a football team. And a lot of what happens here is, it’s got to be negotiated quietly.


VILLARAIGOSA:I’ll take one more question. Kate!

LINTHICUM: It's two questions -- small.

VILLARAIGOSA: No, you get one. You can ask two.

LINTHICUM: In one question can I ask two questions? When exactly did you know? And did AEG identify a potential buyer?  

VILLARAIGOSA: I think I’ve been very clear. I’ve known for some time now.

LINTHICUM: But why not say it? Why not say when?

VILLARAIGOSA: Because I don’t need to. I’m sorry Kate. I’ve known some time now there was a possibility a sale could occur. The actual decision, as I understand it, has been very, very recent. But I’ve known for some time.

As I've said, I think some of you wrote about it, I was in Denver last December. I had a private meeting with Mr. [Philip] Anschutz. People took a picture of us on the field. I think some of you speculated that we were meeting about football.... I’ve talked to him frequently. I’ve talked to Mr. [AEG president Tim] Leiweke as well. I’ve talked to the owners, the league, on a regular basis and you know, we feel very, very good about football coming to Los Angeles under the deal that we’ve struck.


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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall


Photo: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa responds to questions Wednesday about AEG putting itself up for sale. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times