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Villaraigosa ‘Close’ to Mayoral Bid

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa said Thursday that he had his family’s blessing to challenge Mayor James K. Hahn to a rematch and had heard from many constituents that they would also support his candidacy.

“So, obviously, we’re getting close,” Villaraigosa said, beaming as he moved, Oprah-style, amid long tables of business and civic leaders, talking about his dreams for Los Angeles and criticizing the current mayor’s leadership.

When Hahn defeated Villaraigosa in a bitter runoff three years ago, the ebullient Eastside politician bounced back, winning a City Council seat last year and then becoming a national co-chairman of Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

The former Assembly speaker has spent much of the last year talking about how much he loves being a councilman.

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But as other prominent candidates -- including another former Assembly speaker, Bob Hertzberg, and Councilman Bernard C. Parks -- have entered the race, Villaraigosa has made no secret of his desire to lead Los Angeles.

At a Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum luncheon Thursday, he said that even if Kerry won the presidency and offered him a Washington job, his heart would still belong in Los Angeles.

“Where I want to be is here,” he said, adding, “Right now, this city is rudderless and needs a leader that can create the consensus and has the energy and the wherewithal to take this city to where it should be.”

Hahn, who has won six citywide elections, was considered likely to win a second term as mayor until a federal corruption probe was sparked by allegations that campaign contributions influenced decisions on city contracts.

But Villaraigosa said it was “tougher to beat an incumbent than people think.”

The mayor, son of the late county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, defeated Villaraigosa 54% to 46% in June 2001.

In the last few months, Villaraigosa, 51, has talked about how difficult it was for his family when, in the waning days of the 2001 mayor’s race, Hahn’s campaign aired a television ad with images of a crack cocaine pipe to dramatize Villaraigosa’s effort to win clemency for convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali.

On Thursday, asked about his interest in the mayor’s race, Villaraigosa said his family “believes that I should do it, without question.”

Later, his wife, Corina Villaraigosa, said the first campaign was “a little tough on the family, I have to admit.” But she added, “For Antonio, running and being in public office is just who he is.”

Villaraigosa told the Current Affairs Forum that he was conferring with people in his Northeast Los Angeles district about seeking the mayoralty. When he ran for the council last year, Villaraigosa said he wanted “to be a council member for four years.”

Regarding a bid for mayor, he insisted that “the vast majority of people I’ve spoken with have said, ‘You should do it.’ So, obviously, we’re getting close.”

But first, he said, he has to determine if he has the fire in the belly. “I have to have a belly check,” he said, “because everybody knows that if I get in this race, I’m running to win.”

A member of the audience, developer Sherman Gardner, urged Villaraigosa to enter the race soon. Borrowing a line from Nike, Gardner said: “Just do it!”

“If I just do it ... it will be a formidable task,” Villaraigosa replied, saying he believed that Hahn had already raised $2 million and Hertzberg about $550,000. “Notwithstanding that, I do believe there is plenty of time for me” to raise the money needed to run.

Villaraigosa has about $822,500 left over from his Assembly speaker’s campaign committee, but it is unclear whether he can tap it for a city campaign.

In the past, the city Ethics Commission has concluded that transfers between campaign committees can’t be made, said spokeswoman Barbara Freeman.

Earlier in the day, Villaraigosa marked his first year on the council by honoring community leaders and distributing copies of an annual report to constituents.


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