Studio chiefs lining up early behind Antonio Villaraigosa


LOSANGELESMayorAntonio Villaraigosa is continuing his summer fundraising tour of Hollywood hotshots and other locals, and cash is filling his 2009 reelection campaign coffer. He could end up with a better showing than “Iron Man” before it’s over.

The mayor’s advisors estimate that the campaign will collect $1.5 million by the end of June. Not bad for an effort that started in April with a private reception at director Rob Reiner’s house.

Even though the election is nearly a year away, Villaraigosa’s people want to scare off the competition by giving the mayor a head start in the money race. Almost every studio head in town is onboard.

“People look at him as they would a movie star,” said public affairs consultant Kerman Maddox, who has been raising campaign cash for Villaraigosa and Democratic presidential candiate Sen. Barack Obama. “When I travel, everyone knows who the mayor of Los Angeles is. You couldn’t always say that.”

Villaraigosa has an impressive list of Hollywood supporters: Casey Wasserman (grandson of the legendary Lew Wasserman); Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger; HBO Films President Colin Callender; media mogul Haim Saban; Laker great Magic Johnson; 20th Century Fox Co-Chairman Jim Gianopulos; director-producer Jerry Zucker; syndicated television mogul Michael King; writer-TV producers Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason;superagent Patrick Whitesell; DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg; William Morris head Jim Wiatt; News Corp. President Peter Chernin.

So far no other major candidate has declared, but there other people thinking about running -- namely billionaire mall magnate Rick Caruso.

When reached by cellphone this week while sailing off the coast of Italy, Caruso said he will make his decision in the coming months. It’s clear that he’s enjoying the reaction he’s received as a possible contender. “Lots of people have called me,” he said.

He paused and asked one of his sons on the boat: “Do you think I should run?” The answer was a resounding yes.

Stay tuned, Caruso said, upbeat on his vacation. He joked: “Antonio could be my running mate.”

Privately, Villaraigosa’s campaign strategists don’t think Caruso, a prolific Republican fundraiser, will run. The developer of the Grove and the newly opened Americana at Brand has too many major projects in the works that require attention (like building a new mall next to the Santa Anita racetrack.)

But if the mall developer does run, they want to make sure Villaraigosa is ready.

“Caruso would make the race interesting,” said Maddox. “But he can’t win. Take that to the bank.”

Giving on their way out of town

On Tuesday night, Los Angeles’ Democratic elite helped raise an estimated $5 million for Obama and the Democratic National Committee at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

On Wednesday? Half of them left town. Producer Mike Medavoy and wife Irena jetted off to the South of France. Money manager John Emerson and family headed to China. Environmentalist Kelly Meyer, wife of NBC/Universal head Ron Meyer, was preparing to take her son to Iceland.

Reiner left earlier this month to tour American baseball stadiums with his son (it’s something they do every summer). And George Clooney has settled in at Lake Como in Italy, where he’ll stay in touch with Obama by e-mail.

So it goes in Hollywood: The town shuts down this time of year. It’s one of the few places where the season becomes a verb: They’re summering. Usually everyone leaves after the private schools let out in early June. But with the presidential election in full swing, some stuck around longer to raise money for Obama (and Villaraigosa).

Don’t expect them to return en masse until the Democratic convention in Denver in August. (Although you can still reach them by cellphone. And they’re always just a private jet ride away.)