Villaraigosa Assembling His Network
With his pledge to bring the “best and the brightest” to Los Angeles City Hall, Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa has indicated that he intends to build stronger ties between the mayor’s office and community and business leaders.
And advisors said Villaraigosa, who takes over from Mayor James K. Hahn on July 1, plans to assemble a team of local politicians, businessmen, longtime loyalists and community leaders, many of whom felt frozen out of city government by the Hahn administration.
Villaraigosa has given few indications of whom he plans to put in official city positions. In addition to hiring a chief of staff and mayoral aides, he has the option of replacing more than 300 members of city boards and commissions as well as about 30 department heads.
“We’ll be making evaluations about all of the general managers and commissioners,” Villaraigosa said last week.
But he is already working on his transition with a former chief of staff to Richard Riordan, a mayor who relied heavily on personal relationships with business leaders to press some of his biggest initiatives.
Villaraigosa’s associates say he too will cultivate a network of well-respected advisors outside City Hall to guide him on such issues as education reform, transportation planning and economic development.
Among them are likely to be former Assembly speaker and mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg, former Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Nick Patsaouras and entrepreneur and former national Democratic Party official Ari Swiller.
“He’s very serious about bringing in people who are excellent,” said Hertzberg, who is advising Villaraigosa on his transition. “It’s just gripping to him to bring in people who are grown-ups, who are adults.”
The outgoing administration was widely criticized, even by some Hahn friends, for a disengaged style that isolated the mayor and allowed ties between City Hall and many community and business leaders to wither.
Some of the mayor’s closest aides, including Chief of Staff Tim McOsker, were not widely known outside City Hall. And Hahn did not “pick up the phone and call people,” said Riordan, who is also advising Villaraigosa on his transition. “Antonio will.”
The new mayor nonetheless has much to prove.
Business leaders are looking for Villaraigosa, the first former labor organizer to run Los Angeles, to commit his administration to a centrist course that will improve the business climate. Environmentalists are looking for swifter adoption of environmentally sensitive policies at the Department of Water and Power.
Leaders of the African American community and the San Fernando Valley, who felt ignored by the Hahn administration, are hoping for more attention. And City Council members, many of whom felt frustrated by Hahn’s inaccessibility, are looking for stronger cooperation. Villaraigosa promised last week that, in contrast to Hahn, he would appear regularly before the council.
In six years as an assemblyman in Sacramento, including two as Assembly speaker, Villaraigosa, a Democrat, won a reputation for building relationships, even across party lines, and for pulling together strong governing teams.
Hertzberg, who roomed with Villaraigosa when the two were in the Assembly, was considered one of his strongest lieutenants.
As a councilman over the last two years, Villaraigosa had a lower-profile chief lieutenant, chief of staff Jimmy Blackman, who had been field director of Villaraigosa’s 2001 mayoral campaign.
Several political observers noted that the mayor-elect is giving signs that he plans to work alongside respected community leaders.
Villaraigosa began the day after the election visiting longtime Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack, an elder statesman in the African American community.
Advisors said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and former Laker star and businessman Magic Johnson, who swung their considerable influence behind Villaraigosa during the campaign, will remain important links to the city’s African American community.
And the new mayor has developed a close relationship with African American Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the conservative former police chief whose bid to become mayor ended with the March election.
In the Valley, Villaraigosa plans to rely on, among others, former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a leader of the Valley secession movement, and council President Alex Padilla, who represents the Northeast Valley.
Villaraigosa and Padilla have both said they plan to talk regularly. Padilla and Hahn did not have a close relationship.
Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents a heavily Jewish district mostly on the city’s Westside, and Councilman Martin Ludlow, who represents a traditionally African American South Los Angeles district, remain Villaraigosa’s closest council allies.
Weiss, one of Villaraigosa’s most enthusiastic backers during the campaign, is also helping Villaraigosa on his transition.
Riordan and other advisors said they expect Villaraigosa to reach out to business leaders as well, much as Riordan turned to wealthy men, including Eli Broad and Steve Soboroff, to shepherd projects such as the Disney Hall and Staples Center.
Villaraigosa already has a number of strong relationships with businessmen, several of whom he got to know when he was an assemblyman from 1994 to 2000. And advisors say he is likely to rely heavily on a group of them who could form a sort of kitchen cabinet.
Patsaouras, one of the city’s leading advocates for major public transit projects, served with Villaraigosa on a precursor to the MTA and is a very close friend. Patsaouras said last week that he does not want to serve in an official position in city government but intends to remain a loyal advisor.
Keith Brackpool, an entrepreneur who pushed unsuccessfully for years to develop an underground water storage project in the Mojave Desert, is another longtime friend who won’t serve in City Hall but said he would remain close to the new mayor.
Among Villaraigosa’s closest advisors is Swiller, a young environmental entrepreneur who worked for supermarket magnate and investor Ron Burkle and came to know Villaraigosa in Sacramento.
Swiller worked on Villaraigosa’s 2001 and 2005 mayoral campaigns and is well connected in national Democratic circles.
“There are a lot of people who are interested in Antonio and ... will help outside from outside the administration,” Swiller said.
Hertzberg, who has become a leading voice for reforming the city’s public schools since he made breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District a central plank of his mayoral campaign, could play a key role in any effort by Villaraigosa to increase the mayor’s involvement in the public schools.
S. David Freeman, the colorful former general manager of the Department of Water and Power, has been a longtime Villaraigosa supporter and advisor on environmental issues.
Richard Alatorre, who represented Villaraigosa’s 14th City Council District from 1985 until 1999 and who pleaded guilty in 2001 to failing to declare income from people seeking his influence, said he would continue to offer advice to Villaraigosa when asked.
Still unclear is what role organized labor will play in the Villaraigosa administration.
Though a former organizer for the local teachers union, Villaraigosa did not receive the endorsement of many of the city’s most powerful labor unions. And the mayor-elect has made a point of stressing his interest in governing from the center.
But Villaraigosa remains close to many local labor leaders, including Maria Elena Durazo, widow of the late head of the county Federation of Labor, Miguel Contreras. Durazo heads Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel workers engaged in protracted negotiations with downtown hotels.