Opinion: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa opts out of California governor race

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Antonio Villaraigosaof Los Angeles, mayor of the United States’ second-most-populous city, has decided not to seek the Democratic Party nomination for governor of California in next year’s election.

Villaraigosa’s local popularity has slipped to 55% in recent months, following his divorce and revelations of his romantic affair with a second female television reporter. That’s about the same tepid percentage as he got in the mayoral election against political nobodies. A recent Times poll indicated 47% did not want the mayor to run for governor.

The Democrat’s decision would have added to a competitive, crowded field containing San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and expected to include state Atty Gen. Jerry Brown, seeking a replay of his Moonbeam gubernatorial days from a generation ago, as the former Oakland mayor continues his effort to be elected to evbery office in California. .

In a somewhat awkward and goofy setting this afternoon, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, while describing stories such as Iran’s ongoing protests, kept teasing to the mayor’s upcoming announcement on ‘The Situation Room’ and flashing to the mayor sitting alone in front of an L.A. camera with one of this year’s most forced grins.


The Democratic primary winner will likely face one of two Republicans. Businesswoman Meg Whitman, who lead EBay to such success, is already lining up numerous GOP endorsements across the state and from such national party luminaries as John McCain and Mitt Romney.

The other prominent GOP candidate is Steve Poizner, the state insurance commissioner and also wealthy, as is required in the Golden State. His supporters point out that he’s collected endorsements from 70% of the state’s minority Republican legislators, as well as numerous state chairs and local officials.

The winner will succeed Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ousted Democrat Gray Davis in a recall effort.

Villaraigosa, the former speaker of the California Assembly, said he felt compelled to stay and didn’t want to walk away from the city’s pressing issues. He was not asked about his romantic affairs but did cite his desire to spend time with his teenage daughter as she completes high school. We have the interview’s full transcript below.

-- Andrew Malcolm

The Ticket will be covering the race, even without Villaraigosa. Click here for Twitter alerts on each new item. Or follow us @latimestot

The mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is joining us live from Los Angeles. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Good. You told me a few weeks ago that you would tell us right here in The Situation Room your decision. I know you’ve been agonizing over this decision for weeks if not months. Are you going to run to become the next governor of California?

VILLARAIGOSA: The answer is no. And I make that decision because, as I’ve said many times, I love the city I was born and raised in, the city that my grandpa came to a hundred years ago. Cities all across the country are on the front lines of the challenges facing us in terms of the economic crisis. Here in the city of L.A., a 12.5 percent unemployment rate, 21,000 people have lost their home over the last two years. We’re facing an unprecedented and historical budget deficit at $530 million.

And I feel compelled to complete what I started out to do. I said to Los Angeles four years ago to dream with me. I said we were going to take on the many challenges that we face in the city, public schools and public safety, the issue of the environment. I said that we were going to do everything we could to come together as a city, and I can’t leave this city in the middle of a crisis. It’s as simple as that.

BLITZER: But you know, Mayor, if you’re the governor of California, there’s a lot you could certainly do to help not only the people of Los Angeles, but a lot of other cities throughout that state, as well.

VILLARAIGOSA: You’re right, Wolf, and that’s why this was an agonizing decision. What is going on in Sacramento currently is an abomination. The system is fundamentally flawed. It’s broken. It’s currently in a meltdown as we speak. But I was elected mayor and re-elected by the people of this city. They’ve given me the honor for a second term, and I feel compelled to complete the promise that I made to them.

I’m going to dream, and I want the people to dream with me. But in order to do that, we’re going to have to take on the immediate challenges of finding jobs, of turning the economy around, of continuing the education reform, of building on the public safety record that we’ve established where we’re the second big city in America, crime down eight years in a row, and safer than any time since 1954. But those things are good, but they’re not good enough. We’ve got to do more. And I’ve been...

BLITZER: I was going to say, Mayor, the other guys who are running, including Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, in all the polls it showed that you would have been very, very competitive with them. When did you make up your mind that this is something you didn’t want to do, run for governor?

VILLARAIGOSA: I’ve been making up my mind for a long time, frankly. The reason why I didn’t early on make a decision one way or the other was because, as I said, this city’s given me so much. I didn’t want to walk away. But as you said, the challenges of the state are so great, as well. I was speaker of the assembly. I have a great deal of support in the legislature and throughout the state.

But this is about the city I love. And I also have a young girl, 16 years old. She’s the apple of my eye, and she’s got two more years of high school and then she’s gone. And I don’t want to be campaigning for a year and then leading the state in Sacramento and my little precious is, you know, finishing up her high school education.

BLITZER: It’s always personal decisions as well as political decisions. The ‘L.A. Times’ poll had your approval number at 55 percent approve of the way you’re doing your job, 37 disapprove. There was a cover of ‘Los Angeles’ magazine that branded you as a failure. I’m sure you’ve seen that cover, as well. Are you ready to endorse someone now for the Democratic nomination?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, let me just say when I was asked in a press conference what I thought about it, I said great picture -- three years younger, 10 pounds lighter. You know, that’s what happens when you’re mayor. You’re the focus of the good times and the bad. The fact of the matter is we’ve got many challenges in this city. In a time when the unemployment rate is at 12.5 percent, a 55 percent approval isn’t so bad. But I recognize that I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve got to do a better job...

BLITZER: Who do you like for the nomination?

VILLARAIGOSA: And I’ve got to do a better job even than the job that we’ve done over the last four years. In terms of who I like, I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on my job and the challenges that we’re facing. There’s plenty of time to weigh in on that race. I can tell you this -- whoever is going to be the next governor in the state of California better talk turkey with the people of California.

I said the system is broken, and it is. A two-thirds vote to pass a budget, one of only three states in the country that require that. Two-thirds vote to pass taxes, one of 16 or 17 that require super majority. Term limits is broken. The fact of the matter is we need to support open primaries. The initiative process is broken when it takes a majority vote to deny a whole group of people the fundamental right to marry but you can pass a -- you need a two-thirds vote to pass a budget.

So there’s a lot of things broken. I hope to participate in that conversation, but my focus will be on the city of Los Angeles. My focus will be on -- and the national stage, really making the case for cities in metropolitan areas. Just elected the second vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. We’re going to be in Washington, D.C., making the case that if we’re going to turn America around, we’ve got to turn our cities around.

BLITZER: Mayor Villaraigosa, we’ll see you here in Washington, D.C. Thanks very much. Thanks for living up to your commitment to tell us first your decision, and the decision is you are not running for the governor’s race in the state of California. Thanks very much for coming in.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you, Wolf. ###