6:43 PM PST, March 4, 2009
Is it possible to win an election and still come off as a loser?
I think Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has just answered that question in the affirmative.
He barely got a majority of the vote Tuesday, despite facing nine relative nobodies and spending 15 times as much money as the No. 2 finisher, Walter Moore.
With votes still being counted on his solar energy plan, Measure B, it was touch and go despite Villaraigosa's rabid support and the help he had counted on from labor.
And his close pal and candidate for city attorney, Jack Weiss, has been forced into a runoff against a guy who came out of nowhere.
Villaraigosa stepped into the batter's box on Tuesday, swung and missed twice, and legged out a weak infield hit.
On top of it all, only 15% of the city's registered voters got off the couch to vote, another sad showing for a guy who used to get people excited just by flashing a smile. Rick Caruso, who decided to spend time with his family instead of trying to knock Villaraigosa out of City Hall, might have taken this thing in a rout.
In the second largest city in the nation, Villaraigosa didn't manage 130,000 votes.
Heck, we've got that many potholes.
"I thought he'd get at least 60%," Bob Stern, of the Center for Governmental Studies, said of Villaraigosa.
My guess was that he'd pull somewhere between the high 50s and low 60s, given the lack of experience and name recognition among his competitors. However, the first solid returns indicated that Villaraigosa finished closer to 55% of the vote. Stern did a bit more number crunching today, though, and the mayor's showing looked even more embarrassing.
About 9,000 people voted in the election but didn't bother to cast a vote for Villaraigosa or any of the other mayoral candidates. That means that of those who did vote for a mayor, Villaraigosa got only 53.45%, by Stern's math.
So what does this say about Tony Villar?
"It says he doesn't have much of a base to run for governor," Stern said.
And we know, of course, that Villaraigosa had his eye on Sacramento, creeping down that path like a cat after a bird.
Even if L.A. were crazy about him, it would be tough to pull that off. But this election was no Villaraigosa love-in.
"L.A. voters are not enamored," Stern said.
When I said in a column written last night that I would move into Getty House and serve as Villaraigosa's personal assistant if he didn't get more than 50% of the vote in Tuesday's election, I had no idea how close I came to bunking with the mayor. Four or five points the other way, and I would have been ironing his shirts.
"I'm humbled by your continued trust and your continuing forgiveness," the mayor said in his "victory" speech Tuesday night.
The only question is: forgiveness for what?
The summer of love -- that drawn-out affair that broke up his family and got in the way of business? All the time he spent out of the city? Or the unkept promises? The time wasted on a disastrous school takeover bid?
It's hard to pinpoint.
Maybe he was apologizing on behalf of the two Florida businessmen who were charged Wednesday with conspiring to launder $25,000 in donations to Villaraigosa's 2005 mayoral bid, allegedly hoping to nail down some airport concession contracts.
Look, I'm trying to end on an upbeat note here, but it's not easy.
Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he truly is humbled and determined to redeem himself.
If so, it'd do us all some good.
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