Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may have just gotten back from a week in Israel, but don't go looking for him at City Hall.
Only a day after returning from his homeland security mission to the Middle East, Villaraigosa flew to Florida late Thursday to spend three days at the U.S. Conference of Mayors -- and attend at least one fundraiser for his reelection campaign.
Villaraigosa and other big-city mayors will get an audience today with Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. On the same day, Villaraigosa will raise money for his reelection at the Indian Creek Island, Fla., home of Bernard Klepach, chairman and chief executive of the airport concession company known as DFASS Group, or Duty Free Air and Ship Supply.
The ramped-up travel schedule comes four months after Villaraigosa drew criticism for spending 18 of the first 65 days of 2008 campaigning out of state for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. The mayor will be out of Los Angeles at least 14 of 30 days this month, once his other out-of-town campaign fundraising events are factored in.
Villaraigosa had a fundraiser on June 3 in Chicago and another on June 9 at the home of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On Wednesday, the mayor will fly to San Francisco for a fundraiser with former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, hours after a noon fundraiser in Los Angeles, according to papers filed with the city's Ethics Commission.
The travel schedule has drawn jeers from one Westside activist, who said there is "plenty of work" for Villaraigosa in Los Angeles, such as figuring out ways to cope with traffic congestion and the state's drought.
"This is something that really needs 100% attention by the mayor right here, rolling up the sleeves, getting together with the community," said Mike Eveloff, president of the Tract 7260 Homeowner Assn.
Villaraigosa defended his Israel trip earlier this week, saying he is a global leader, not the mayor of "some small town in the desert somewhere." Deputy Mayor Janelle Erickson said Villaraigosa remains focused on his job, including continuing the expansion of the Los Angeles Police Department and getting the Department of Water and Power to approve new water conservation rules.
"There's no big city mayor who works harder," she said.
Villaraigosa's flight from Israel touched down Wednesday shortly after 6 a.m., a few hours before his news conference to discuss the trip. His plane was scheduled to leave Los Angeles on Thursday at 10:45 p.m. for the Miami conference, where he was scheduled to speak to a group of Latin American mayors, discuss his efforts to improve public schools and give an address on anti-poverty initiatives.
Villaraigosa isn't the only mayor to face scrutiny for heading overseas. Bloomberg and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley have traveled extensively during their time in office. And in Los Angeles, Councilman Greig Smith is spending four weeks in Europe, Asia and Canada looking at trash-processing facilities.
Councilman Tom LaBonge left Thursday for France and Germany, a trip partly paid for by the federal government. Three other council members -- Jack Weiss, Wendy Greuel and Dennis Zine -- went with the mayor to Israel.
Even on the days when Villaraigosa will be in town, his next two weeks will be filled with fundraising events -- at least 10 in Los Angeles between Monday and July 1. Villaraigosa's money hunt has been building to a crescendo as he nears the end of the month, which is also the last day of his campaign's first fundraising period.
Contribution reports will be due on July 31. The larger the total reported by Villaraigosa, the greater the chance that he will frighten away any prospective opponent thinking of mounting a challenge in next spring's election, said Rick Taylor, a campaign consultant and City Hall lobbyist.
"One of the best ways to discourage someone from running is to show a lot of strength, and I believe the mayor will show a lot of strength," said Taylor, a principal with Dakota Communications, a firm that has represented Home Depot and other companies.
Dakota's managing partner, Kerman Maddox, will be among hosts at a noon fundraiser for Villaraigosa on Wednesday, according to an invitation submitted to the Ethics Commission. Hours later, Villaraigosa will appear in San Francisco at a fundraiser being held by Brown and Darius Anderson, president of the government affairs and lobbying firm Platinum Advisors.
Villaraigosa's fundraiser in Chicago featured Daley and two of the founders of JMB Realty, a company that won city permission to build two 47-story condominium towers in Century City last year. When that project was approved, neighborhood groups complained that the city had not fully addressed their concerns about traffic.
Klepach, one of the hosts of the event in Florida, owned a company that operated a store and two kiosks at Los Angeles International Airport until 2005, when it was sold. Villaraigosa's airport commissioners are preparing to consider new concession contracts throughout the airport over the next two years.
Klepach attorney Isaac Mitrani said his client has no idea whether he will bid for those contracts, because no request for proposals has been made by the airport commission. Mitrani also said Saturday's fundraiser is the outgrowth of a decade-long friendship with the Los Angeles mayor.
Klepach's venture at LAX is expected to be mentioned in the upcoming public corruption case filed against former airport commissioner Leland Wong, who faces a felony charge of conflict of interest, among other allegations.
In that case, which is scheduled to begin jury selection next week, Wong is accused of voting on an airport contract for concession company W.H. Smith at the same time that he allegedly sought business with Sean Anderson, then W.H. Smith's chief executive, and Klepach, whose company was a W.H. Smith subcontractor.
Officials with the office of Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said they had no evidence that Klepach or Anderson committed any wrongdoing.