Mayor’s next race won’t be a cakewalk


So here’s how it all breaks down, now that L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has stormed to a reelection victory against a glue horse, an elephant, three giraffes and four angry men on a day when more people went to a carwash than a polling place:

We have only 361 days until the mayor must file papers in his run for governor, a job he lusts after. If he beats long odds, wins next year’s election and leaves for Sacramento on Jan. 1, 2011, that means he has only 667 days left to plant another 800,000 trees in Los Angeles.

I don’t mean to be picky, but he promised us a million trees and I’m going to hold him to it.


(It works out to 1,199 trees a day, Antonio, so let’s pick up the pace).

I should point out that I’m writing this before deadline, without Tuesday’s election results in hand. So it’s possible that in a shocking upset, Zuma Dogg is our new mayor, or that Villaraigosa didn’t get more than 50% of the vote and we’re headed for a runoff.

I’m so sure that won’t happen, though, that if I’m wrong, I’ll move into Getty House and be Villaraigosa’s personal assistant for a week, without pay.

After I cast my own vote Tuesday, I headed straight over to Jim’s Burgers at 1st and State in Boyle Heights to check in with the regulars who often talk politics over coffee. Bill Escarzaga was there with a copy of Hoy, which buried the municipal election story at the bottom of Page 5, under a headline saying it was coming off “without much euphoria.”

Escarzaga said he didn’t vote because he’s been sick, but he thinks Villaraigosa has done a pretty good job in his first four years. Two nonvoter friends of his were at the same table and I tried drawing them into the conversation, but they suddenly jumped up and hurried across the street.

“The pool hall just opened,” said Escarzaga, and that’s the kind of election this was, Villaraigosa’s own base more interested in a game of billiards.


Joaquin Vega said he thought Villaraigosa did pretty well despite some unkept promises, and he had just cast a vote to give the mayor another shot.

“It’s hard to do everything,” Vega said. “The whole nation, the whole world, has problems in this changed economy.”

But will our problems only get worse if Villaraigosa spends too many days on the road, trying to sell himself as the next governor? And who would take over if he wins?

It turns out the City Council would make that decision, and it would have two options:

Appoint a replacement, or call a special election.

If they do the former, said Councilman Eric Garcetti, the new mayor doesn’t have to be a member of the City Council. It could be anyone.

Including me?

“You’re on the short list,” said Garcetti.

If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not . . .

Wait a minute.

I’m sure Garcetti would make a better mayor than I would, but I’d take the job just to fire deputy transportation mayor Jaime de la Vega for driving that big, dumb Hummer.

Really, though, does Villaraigosa have a shot at becoming the next governor?

Not if U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein gets into the race, said Dan Schnur of USC’s Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics. In a Democratic primary, he sees her beating Villaraigosa, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. He even thinks that if Feinstein decides she wants to be governor, those three contenders would ditch and run for her Senate seat instead.

And if Feinstein doesn’t run?

Schnur, a former GOP strategist, sees it much the same way I do: Brown’s got the best shot because of his statewide name recognition, and because while Villaraigosa and Newsom handle the messy business of running big cities in horrible budgetary times, Brown can float above the fray and send out weekly press releases about himself.

There’s also speculation about a run by Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who once wanted to hold a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion, so let’s hope she’s in. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’d say that one year from now, the odds are 3 to 1 that Villaraigosa will be running against Sanchez and 2 to 1 that he’ll be dating her.

You can place your bets by e-mail.

On the Republican side, the lineup includes Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and EBay founder Meg Whitman, who recently said she would dig into her change purse for most of the $150 million she’d like to spend on her campaign.

Couldn’t we just take the $150 million and give her the job now?

There’s no telling how many promises Villaraigosa would have to make to public-employee unions and other Democratic ATMs to raise that kind of dough. Prison guards, the reigning champs, could end up with helicopters, limos and lifetime benefits for extended family and pets.

Villaraigosa, like Newsom, faces another challenge besides money, as Schnur sees it. Many people who don’t live in Los Angeles or San Francisco hate those places, so the candidates would have to sell not just themselves, but their cities as well, including their triumphs as mayors.

And how might Villaraigosa sell L.A.?

“You say you meant a million leaves,” Schnur said, “and not a million trees.”