Interview: Antonio Villaraigosa reflects on past as he charts future
Just before leaving City Hall after serving the maximum eight years in office, then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke at length with Los Angeles Times political reporters Maeve Reston and Michael Finnegan about his legacy and political future.
LAT: Everyone is wondering what you’ll do next. Accepted any job offers?
AV: “The answer is — I said. I made it pretty clear when I ran in 2001 that I really wanted to be mayor — that I was born and raised here; that my family had deep roots here; my grandpa had come 100 years ago. I’ve been focused on finishing strong all the way to the end. So I don’t have a job after this. I don’t have anything in terms of a hard offer, because I want to finish this job. Over the years I’ve learned: focus on the job at hand and opportunities will open after, so the answer, no job yet. I will share with you what I’ve said to others. I think more than likely, I’ll affiliate with a university or a think tank; more than likely some public speaking; maybe some TV, but I don’t think that will be the primary focus — and maybe something in the private sector. I want to do a listening tour — that’s something that I haven’t said except I did say yesterday on Larry Mantle’s show.”
LAT: [A listening tour] of California?
AV: “California, but also across the country, but particularly California.”
LAT: And that would prepare you for a potential run for governor?
AV: “No. I leave here with some lessons learned. Lesson No. 1: it’s broken on the right and it’s broken on the left. Although it’s more broken on the right, I think. I remain a progressive, without question. It’s also broken on the left, and I want to figure out how we put California and America back on track — how we bridge this partisan divide that is so polarizing. You and I were at [2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt] Romney’s gathering and discussion [in Park City, Utah]. I went because, God, we’ve got to be talking to the other side. We can’t keep on doing this. So look — I want to be on a listening tour; I want to be around very smart people that are going to help me think through how we restore the luster of the California dream, how we put America back on track.”
LAT: What are the two or three most important ways that Los Angeles has changed in the last eight years under your watch?
AV: “Well, I didn’t do it all by myself. I have a very good, strong relationship with the City Council. We’ve partnered on almost everything. I’ve been able to get broad stakeholder support for virtually everything we did, but some of the ways that we’re better off today after eight years: we’re safer than any time since 1952. We’ve had a 49% drop in homicides and violent crime. We’ve grown the Police Department to its highest level ever, but importantly we’ve gotten out from under a consent decree that we’ve had for more than a decade. We’re focused on constitutional, community policing. Our gang reduction youth development efforts have resulted in — if you look at June of 2005 and June of 2013 — a 66% drop in gang homicides and a 55% drop in gang crime. You go downtown, you go to Hollywood, you can walk from the L.A. Times to a restaurant downtown at night. So we’re safer. Our schools are better. When I got involved in this effort — and I obviously tried to collaborate and have a more formal role with the school district. I knew I couldn’t get complete mayoral control — the Legislature made it pretty clear I couldn’t get that — but I wanted to partner with them. We worked hard to get it through the Legislature and did. School district sued on constitutional grounds. We lost at trial and at appeal, but we kept on going. We elected a school board that would support reform. What have we done in those eight years. We’ve doubled the number of schools at 800 and above — that’s what the state says is a successful school. We had a third of our schools that were failing. Today it’s 10%. Remember, we were debating back then, your paper actually wrote about it, that debate. We got five different studies to prove what I had been saying and that was that we had a 50% dropout rate. Guess what, I was wrong. We only had a 48% graduation rate. It was actually a 52% dropout rate. We’ve reduced, we’ve increased the dropout rate from 48%, in the book there it will say 64% but [L.A. schools Supt. John] Deasy just told me it’s 66%. So 48% to 66%. We’ve given parents more options. We’ve increased the number of charters threefold. We have more kids in charters than any school district in the country, but that’s not the important statistic, because not every charter is at a high level. We’ve increased ninefold the number of charters at 800 and above. We had 227 schools that were overcrowded on year-round schedules. Today there are three. That means that kids are getting 16 more days of instruction, and according to a UC Berkeley study for overcrowded schools, it’s had the effect of adding 35 days. And for severely overcrowded schools it’s had the effect of adding 60-some odd days. And then my partnership schools. Took on the partnership schools — toughest, most violent, lowest-performing schools in the city. Last year on the academic performance index, they were the most improved school district in the state. Jordan High School, which we took over, after one year was the most improved high school. So our schools are better; we’re safer. The environment: we signed on to Kyoto, and I remember when I did it, people thought ‘Kyoto? You’re mayor.’ Well actually about that time, about 150 mayors, most of the big-city mayors had signed on at Kyoto too. We were tired of waiting on the federal government, so we signed on to Kyoto in 2005. Kyoto says you have to reduce carbon emissions by 7% of 1990 levels by 2012. We’re 28% below Kyoto levels in 2012. Yes, No. 1 American city. Only London, and Copenhagen at 40[%], Berlin at 36[%] and Toronto at 34[%] are ahead. We just announced yesterday, with the Clinton Climate Initiative, [we have] replaced 140,000 street lamps from incandescent lamps to LED. We went from 3% renewables to 20%. And finally transportation, we passed Measure R: $40 billion over 30 years. We spearheaded America Fast Forward, as you know, allows cities like ours to access federal loans to accelerate this. We’ve built four light-rail lines or busways since I’ve been mayor, and more importantly we’ve [been] in construction on four more. So we are better, but guess what, that’s why there are elections and term limits. The next mayor will be able to build on that and do even more. And I think that this next mayor is ready to do that.”
LAT: When you look at the transit piece, obviously you have worked a great deal on that over the last eight years — and have frequently been in Washington lobbying for more money for L.A. But at the same time what we’ve seen in polling is that Angelenos are still as frustrated about traffic and the state of their streets as they have been for a long time. When you think about your own legacy on the transit side, what are people not seeing now that will be different 20, 30 years down the line? How will their daily commute be different, based on what you’ve done?
AV: “We’ll actually have a system that can take you all over the region. Today we do the TAP card — [that allows you] to get on not just the MTA buses and trains, but to get [to] all of the city, and county, and beyond the county systems. Actually by next year, 25 different transit agencies. Today, nine. One card. We’ll have built out the system — most of the system within 20 years. We’ll have a subway in 20 years that will take you to Brentwood, and Westwood; we’ll have an Exposition Line that will be completed to Santa Monica. And more importantly, little noticed fact, we just announced the most comprehensive zoning changes. We’ve never redone our zoning in 67 years. We’re doing it for the first time. That, along with doing entitlement, along with my transit corridor cabinet, doing entitlements all along transportation corridors. Before, if you built a subway or a light-rail line, you might start developing 10 years later. Now we’re entitling now, so people are going to be living and we’re going to be sighting developments along light-rail lines, the subway — you’re going to see apartments, you’re going to see places where people can live, work and play/recreate.”
LAT: So in 20 years you’re going to see less frustration?
AV: “This is where — if you ever watch [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg or [Chicago Mayor] Rahm [Emanuel], or me, what we have in common? We’re not afraid of telling people the truth. When someone gets up at a town hall and says ‘We’ll you’ve done all this, but I still have traffic,’ I say ‘Hold it, man, we have traffic because we’re all addicted to the single passenger automobile. Because we buy our kid a car when they graduate from high school. Because we go two blocks to the market in our cars.’ So we’re going to have to change the way we live, and one way to do that is with zoning and entitlements along transportation corridors. The vision behind Measure R — the half-penny sales tax to generate $30 billion to double the size of our rail system — wasn’t just to double the size of the rail system and make investments in transportation and reduce congestion, it was also to reimagine the city. L.A. is going to look at lot more, along transportation corridors, like San Francisco.”
LAT: What about one-way streets? L.A. is one of the few world-class cities that doesn’t have major thoroughfares running one way with sequenced stoplights so that you start and go all the way across town without stopping. You tried but didn’t make it. Is there something structurally wrong in this city that Mayor Garcetti and the mayor after that are going to face the same things and won’t be able to get something that simple, to just ease traffic, done?
AV: “I thought it was important to ease traffic along Olympic and Pico. (It wouldn’t be strictly one-way, there would be ways to get in and out of the neighborhoods). But there was a way to re-stripe, synchronize lights and eliminate parking during the rush hour — to at least during rush hour to be able to speed up traffic. Although it was supremely popular in the city — [with a level of support] I think in the high 80s — the neighborhoods alongside were against it. I do think that it’s something we should do. But most of the urban planners say the best thing we could do is to build along transportation lines, because that’s the way to get ridership, change habits. A lot of you have talked about the fact that I’m going to Venice, and living in Venice. Well guess what, one of the reasons why I picked Venice — it’s a great community, it’s close to the water, it’s close to the airport, it’s a community that’s given me a lot of support over the years — but one of the biggest reasons? You can walk everywhere. You can walk all through Abbott Kinney, you can walk to Santa Monica. We’ve got to create more walkable neighborhoods. So most of the urban planners will tell you, you don’t want too many one-ways — I do still believe that we should have one along Pico and Olympic, but most of the other places ought to be transit friendly. We just did a bus-only lane. We ought to do more of them in this city. We’re going to do more. We’re looking at 14 different corridors throughout the county. It’s something that we’ve got to do. They do it in New York. They do it in Chicago. They do it in San Francisco, and we’ve got to do it in L.A. There will be a lot of resistance to it, but it’s important because ultimately if we want to deal with congestion and gridlock, we have to use more public transit. They do it in New York and Chicago. We can do it here.”
LAT: You mentioned the greening of L.A., moving to more solar power, your promise to get the city off coal—
AV: “It wasn’t a promise. I promised that in 2009. We actually have the framework of agreements to get completely off of coal. We will be completely off of coal by 2025. And I tell you, I also made a promise to get to 20% renewables by 2010. We got there. We started at 62% recycling; today we’re 76% — along with a handful of preeminent cities in the country.”
LAT: But there also has been a constant tension over that time with people around the city, maybe not seeing what the transition actually means for them, being angry about how much their Department of Water and Power bill has gone up. The homeowners who are terrified about how much their bills are going to go up — and don’t really know what the answer is to that yet. And who are already angry at how high (their bill) already is and are struggling to get by?
AV: “The bills for the Department of Water & Power are lower than they are at Southern California Edison. They’re comparable to Glendale and Burbank, which are also public utilities. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the episodes we’ve seen around the world are indication that the world’s getting hotter, that we have to address climate change. Cities are about, I think, 2% of the land mass — approaching 50% of the population in the next couple of decades. But 75% of the carbon emissions. When I say we are leading the way, we are, but New York is right there too. So is Chicago. So is San Francisco. This is what we have to do.”
LAT: But the question is for those homeowners who are really struggling to pay their bills right now. What would you say to them about why they should deal with that burden of the cost?
AV: Because we did a climate adaptation study, the only one of its kind in the world that’s comprehensive. The San Fernando Valley is going to get hotter. L.A. is going to get hotter. That means we’ll use more energy. We want it to be clean energy. Those same people have complained about smog for a generation. Smog is better because we are reducing our carbon emissions. Look, I recognize that some people don’t support all these initiatives. I understand that, we’ve gotten behind good public policy. ... I’m not taking a whole lot of time to think about who disagrees with this or that. I worked as hard as I could. I tried to do it with good science and good public policy. Some people will agree with what we’ve done; some people will not. It’s as simple as that. There’s an opportunity for the next mayor to move in another direction if that’s what they want to do.”
LAT: But you feel good about where you ended up?
AV: “I feel more than good. In fact I get invited to speak all over the world, to speak about the L.A. story, particularly on the environment. I’m sitting on the U.N. Steering Committee on Safer Cities, particularly on the issue that we’ve driven down crime so much. I was at the education summit in New York last November or so with respect to the L.A. story about improving our schools and education reform, so there are always going to be people that disagree with some, agree with others. Ultimately, this is a job where you have to look at the man or the woman in the mirror — in my case, the man in the mirror — and let that be your guide. What you learn in a job like this is that it’s not a popularity contest. And importantly if you’re looking for public opinion, don’t look for immediate gratification. Look at the public opinion that will judge this 10, 20, 30 years down the line.”
LAT: There’s been a long history of tensions, sometimes very severe, between the LAPD and communities of color in particular. Can you talk about whether that has changed over the last eight years in particular and in any concrete way, how it’s changed, if it has?
AV: “It has changed. It’s changed dramatically. I was president of the ACLU. I got behind, back then when I was on the board, the Christopher Commission, the police reforms. When I was in the Legislature, I was supportive of the Rampart investigation that uncovered a lot of abuses. In 2001, I was the first candidate to say I supported a consent decree — that wasn’t popular. I have worked assiduously with [former Police Chief Bill] Bratton and [LAPD Chief Charlie] Beck to get out of that decree, but more importantly to change the culture and the practices of this department. So one proof that it’s better is that the federal government after more than a decade has released us from the consent decree. We’re no longer under a consent decree. There was a Harvard Study two or three years ago that said the LAPD has more support in communities of color than they have in a generation. Early on, I said to Bratton and Beck — both of whom have been absolutely supportive — I said we’ve got to have a department that looks like L.A. I mean if you see the department today, it’s more diverse than any time in its history. Latinos are the new Irish. We’re half the city, and you’re seeing that they’re something like 42% of the department. People of European descent are about 34%; African Americans about 11%; Asian Americans about 9[%] when you include Filipinos. Women are almost 20% of the department. When I go to graduations, and I try to go to most of them over the years, because I’m very proud of the fact that we have graduations — I think we’ve had 80 since I’ve been mayor because we are growing the Police Department — we’ve seen a complete change in the makeup of this department. Beck and Bratton believe in constitutional community policing, you see that. They believe in the gang reduction and youth development efforts. Charlie was just with me, my partner Chief Beck, was just with me at the Summer Night Lights announcement this year, which started on the 26th. And I’ll be there because I’m working until the 30th at midnight.”
LAT: And that’s been one of the initiatives where you’ve been successful in bringing in private funding to work with public funding?
AV: “Philanthropy has been involved. There must have been, I don’t want to exaggerate maybe 25 different corporate or philanthropic partners. Unheard of. We’ve seen a game change in that area because it works. In fact, USAID has tagged our gang reduction/youth development effort to work in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Department of Justice has said that we are one of the best practices when it comes to gang issues. I’ve talked to my friend Rahm Emanuel to talk about some of what we’re doing.”
LAT: And would that be the kind of initiative that you would be looking to take statewide, if you were to hold statewide office?
AV: “L.A. has a lot of best practices that I’d like to see adopted statewide, but no, cities mostly do that. But as an example, the cities would do it, but the state ought to be investing in that, ought to be partnering with cities to do that.”
LAT: You’re not thinking about running for governor in a primary against Jerry Brown?”
LAT: You’re talking four years later?
LAT: Why would you want to be governor?
AV: “Actually, I haven’t made my mind up about that.”
LAT: “You have not made your mind up.”
AV: “No. What I’ve said is that’s the one job in public service that I’d like to do. But the reason I want to go on a listening tour and the reason why I want to affiliate with a think tank and a university — I only want to be in public service, and I would only want to be governor if I could be bold in transforming this state, and restoring the luster of the California Dream. If I thought it wasn’t going to happen, couldn’t do it, why would I want to do it? Look I’ve been majority whip, majority leader, speaker of the Assembly. I had an audacious run for mayor in 2001 when nobody thought it was possible. I ran for City Council in 2003 and ran for mayor in 2005. I’ve given all I had to public service, and I don’t have this need to run again. I’d only run if I thought I could make a difference.”
LAT: But what would you want to do?
AV: “That’s what the listening tour; that’s what the think tank, and the university, is all about. I definitely want to reflect on the last 20 years. I want to be around people who can help me think through how you fix the challenges that face us as a state, the challenges that face great global cities like ours, and the nation. I’m not thinking specifically about anything right now, other than, you know — I want to take this on. People can see by the way I ran in 2001 and 2005 that I really wanted this job. I think the best way to show it is to be grateful. I also want to take it in a little bit. This has been an honor of a lifetime, something I’m deeply grateful for. And I want to reflect on it a little bit. I’m not jumping into things. Some of you ask me, are you running for '[county] supervisor, are you running for City Council?'—
LAT: Six years is a long time.
AV: “I intend to be around. I’m not going to put my head in the sand and disappear.”
LAT: Do you think Brown has been doing a good job?
AV: “You know, he’s had a tough job and he’s putting us back on track.”
LAT: Is there anything right now that you think he has not had a focus on as governor — that you think really needs to be addressed?
AV: “I focus on the cup half full. He and I have a very good relationship. We actually talk, and I think we have a mutual respect.”
LAT: There are also other folks in your party who clearly are exploring [the governor’s race] — Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. What do you think that you could potentially bring to the job of governor that’s not part of their resumes?
AV: “I’m not going to focus on that. I think you know that.”
LAT: Over the next couple of years, if you have this period of time to reflect about your next step, if you were to move on to statewide office or the governor’s race, is there anything that you really want to do, are there any holes in your experience — whether it be working in the private sector — experiences that you’d want to have before you took on that kind of a job?
AV: “I actually haven’t thought a lot about that. That’s a good question. Over the last eight years, I’ve had an opportunity here from Angelenos. I definitely want to hear from a broader cross-section of people across the state, and the country. I want to hear from people in both parties — business and labor, the important stakeholders — that’s important, but I haven’t been thinking about filling up my resume.”
LAT: We’ve been told for example that you’ve explored opportunities, potentially in venture capital, or those areas. Is that an area that intrigues you?
AV: “Well remember, I did private equity for [Ron] Burkle with Yucaipa. I’m not closing doors, but I haven’t opened any either. I’m going to listen to offers, but I’m not focused on that. I want to finish strong. Look, I know that when I said that I’m going to work until 11:59 and 59 seconds on June 30, you all were a little skeptical about it, maybe even a little cynical. I’m working to the end. And then when it’s over I am not looking back. I’ll tell you something — I’m not going to spend a lot of time, could have, would have, should have. There are areas that we can all improve on. I think I’ve learned a lot in this job. And what I’ve learned primarily is that you’ve got to do what’s right, or what you think is right. And you’ve got to make tough decisions. And you’ve got to be willing to take on your friends when you disagree with them. Because if you’d have said 12 years ago when I ran that I would be advocating as aggressively as I have, and as successfully, for pension reform; taking on things like seniority and tenure [in public schools]; as green as I am, taking on the environmental community on the issue of the stringent use and application of CEQA; taking on Prop 13, but also the death penalty and three strikes you’re out. I like to say, and I’m proud of it, I take on stupid wherever it exists. If I don’t agree with something or someone. I’m going to challenge it.”
LAT: Has your perspective on labor, in particular, changed during the time you’ve been mayor?
AV: “No. I believe in collective bargaining. I believe in unions. I just believe that we have to all shoulder the responsibility of setting ourselves on a more sustainable path and I’m not intimidated by them, like some. And if you seen, I’ve not been afraid to challenge them when they disagreed.”
LAT: What changed? You came in as someone who had been so involved in [the labor] movement. Was it coming into this job and having the kind of constraints that you did? Or was there any kind of an ideological change over time in the way that you viewed labor, that’s different than it was, or perhaps just more informed 12 years ago?
AV: “I would say it wasn’t ideological. I’m still in favor of collective bargaining. I support our unions. I know how hard our employees work, and our teachers work. I just think there are things that are broken that they are defending and they can’t continue to defend. I’ve been able to get, spearhead, employees going from 6% to 11%. You do the checking, you’re a journalist. There aren’t a whole lot of cities that have gone that far for current employees. You check it out. Six to Eleven. Almost doubling it. New employees — who used to be able to retire at 55.”
LAT: And we’re talking about pension contributions—
AV: “Pension contributions. New employees used to be able to retire at 55, and get a 100%. Now new employees can only retire at 65 and get 75%.”
LAT: In some sense that happened when your back was against the wall with the economy—
AV: “That’s exactly right, and when they wouldn’t take a cut. So we had to furlough and lay off. We’ve laid off more people than any mayor before me.”
LAT: But you wouldn’t have necessarily taken those kind of steps if the economy hadn’t backed you into a corner and you had to do something?
AV: “That’s exactly right. So it wasn’t ideological. It was practical. There were people saying that L.A. was going to go bankrupt. And a couple of times I pushed back, and I smirked, and I said, ‘Hey, not under my watch.’ We were looking at a $1.1-billion structural deficit. We’re now at a $150 million. According to the chief administrative officer, we’re on path to be in a surplus in three years if we stay the course. But as much as we’ve done around pension reform, we’ve got to do more. Today a mayor, I won’t say which one because it was a private conversation, but a mayor called me and said, ‘Look, after your term is over, will you work with me on pension reform statewide?’ I said ‘absolutely.’”
LAT: But those decisions that you made — even as recently as just a couple of months ago — you said that city employees should not take raises until 2017, new raises—
AV: “On the recommendation of the chief administrative officer, I said that. And I believe that and I hope that the next mayor and the council, and the council’s already put the money in the reserve, I hope that they’ll be able to successfully do that. I know this — a year later when those contracts are open, we can’t give them a raise.
LAT: There’s that decision, there’s also what you said about the pay raises that you all agreed to a few years ago — 25% — and that being a big regret for that five-year period, then going up against the teachers unions—
AV: “It was a big regret but remember the CAO negotiates those contracts, the council unanimously supported it, and so did I, and that’s why — because it was such a regret — that’s why I was as strong about sharing the sacrifice and the responsibility, furloughing, laying off, consolidating departments, finding efficiencies, bringing in new revenue and cutting our structural deficit.
LAT: All of those decisions over time and taking that stance toward labor, will that have a political cost for you, if you run later?
AV: “Yeah. Of course. There’s no question about it.”
LAT: Do you expect the unions to be with you?
AV: “Don’t know. But there’s no question that they’re a powerful interest, that expected people like me — because we were supported by them — have to agree with them all the time. And that’s what you learn when you have a big job. You learn that you’re not here to be popular. You’re not here to agree with the people that support you all the time.”
LAT: You were very popular with the Republicans last year, who cited you as a Democrat who had gone up against labor. So in some ways that political positioning could actually help you appeal to a broader base of voters in the future—
AV: “Wait, Wait, Wait. Let me push back a little bit. You guys just did a poll and Republicans apparently support me at 26%—
LAT: Yeah but we’re talking about L.A.—
AV: “And I’ll tell you what — they don’t even know that we’ve done all this. I mean that’s what’s good about doing an interview like this. They don’t even know — again you do the fact checking — there aren’t a whole lot of cities that took their current employees from 6[%] to 11% contribution for their pensions. There aren’t a whole lot of cities that have done a new pension tier the way that we’ve done. The fact is, we’ve done a lot and we’ve done a lot to challenge what’s broken. The status quo, whether it’s disrupting feathers on this side or the other side. I’ve also been aggressively for marriage equality. I was one of four mayors that said to the mayors of the country — we ought to all be for it. There are now 300 mayors. I also led the effort to take on seniority and tenure at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. We supported that. Immigration reform — we supported that. National building — I said we can’t build bridges and hospitals in Baghdad and Kandahar and not in Kansas City. So I take on what I hope — with Bloomberg I signed on and joined the Fix the Debt Coalition. I campaigned with Obama against privatizing Social Security. And I campaigned against turning Medicare into voucher care, but on both counts I said we can reform Social Security, not privatize it and reform Medicare and not make it into voucher care. So there’s a middle ground that unfortunately a lot of the special interests and a lot of the extremes on both sides — they don’t want to find that middle road. And that’s the only way to fix what’s broken in the city, the state and the country. I call it the radical middle. And what it is — it’s that path that takes us forward. Look what’s happening in Washington, what’s happened until we got a 2/3 majority in Sacramento. There’s this unwillingness to compromise. It used to be that compromise, civility, statesmanship were things that we respected. Now they’re like bad words.”
LAT: What’s broken on the left? You made a reference to that earlier.
AV: Defending pensions that don’t work. Seniority… Why should you be able to keep your job as a teacher because you’ve been there the longest? Why should you have a job for life or why should every decision be based on seniority. That’s not a system that works. The environmental laws. Our green initiatives are some of the more far-reaching in the country — and yet, we’ve got a CEQA system that makes it almost impossible to build anything in this state. You’ve got to challenge what’s broken on this side and on that side.”
LAT: You mentioned that a lot of people are unfamiliar with the details of your record. Why do you think that people, not knowing details of your record, they still have strong opinions about you. A lot of people really like you a lot; a lot of people really dislike you a lot — and it also breaks down along ethnic lines a little bit. Why?
AV: “Look, we’re living in a 24-hour news cycle and yet, you’d be surprised by how little information actually seeps through. To be honest — car crashes, sensational stories kind of always take precedence. I think that’s part of it. But in the end, look, to be in the middle of a recession and have half the people and the other half not — not so bad. But I started off by saying, I don’t think you’re in these jobs to be popular. You’re in these jobs to do what you think is right. Sometimes that will be popular, sometimes it won’t.”
LAT: One question on the personal side, when you’ve been asked about regrets that you had. You’ve mentioned a number of times that you wish you’d handled the breakup of your marriage better. That’s obviously a personal matter. Now that you’re thinking about a run for governor — how do you think that has shaped public perceptions of you?
AV: “I’m glad you asked that question because that certainly, as you said, not just a regret, but it was a very painful time for me and my family. I should have handled that better, but not for politics. I should have handled it better for my family. The story that almost nobody knows: Antonio and Natalia have been living with their dad. A story that people don’t know: Antonio, Natalia, Marcela and Priscilla are closer than we’ve ever been in our life. A story they don’t know is that Corina and I are friends. You know, the fact of the matter is, people didn’t know the story. They just know what they think and so I’m not thinking about that as a regret because of what people think politically. I’m thinking about it because I know it was deeply painful to my kids, to my family, and that’s why I bring it up when you all ask. You don’t have to ask. I almost always bring it up. I’ve taken responsibility for it. And the good news is — we’re closer than in any time in our lives.”
LAT: So is the whole gang going to be in Venice?
AV: “The whole gang will be around. You remember, a couple of them are already big. We got together on Father’s Day and we had a great time. You know, we’re a close family.”
LAT: In closing we wanted to ask, not only what you’re looking forward to personally now that you’ll be free of these duties, but also what you think the city will look like 50 years from now. When you think about all the changes that you put into place that people maybe aren’t seeing now, what’s your vision of what L.A. will be 50 years from now?
AV: I think when we fully build out our transit system, doubling the size of our transit system is not where we should stop. We should go beyond that. We’ll see a very different city. More people live closer to work. More people live in neighborhoods where they can work, shop, play, eat. We’ll still have some neighborhoods with the single-family nice homes, front lawn, back lawn, pool. But you’re going to see a lot more people living down these transportation corridor nodes. I think what you’ll see, and I’ve been saying this since 2001, and most of you probably thought it was like, hyperbole, but let me just tell you this. I said in 2001, L.A. is to the world what New York was in the 20th century and London in the 19th century. Why did I say that? Because this is the Pacific Century. I’ve met three times with President Xi Jinping [of China]. I’ve gone to China three times, Korea three times. We have more visitors from China. When I went the first time in 2006 and opened up a tourism office, 110,000 Chinese were coming to L.A. Today 160,000 Chinese are coming. They spend on average $7,000 when they’re here — more than any other tourist. This year we are going to have 100,000 new international tourists; 70,000 of them will come from China. We move 44% of the Chinese goods. I’ve been to Korea three times. I’ve had two Korean presidents at my home. This is the Pacific Century. Oh, Mexico’s economy is growing 4% — fastest growing economy in Latin America. With a gateway to China, Korea, the rising economies of Asia, with a gateway to Mexico and Latin America, with the most diverse city maybe anywhere in the world, but certainly anywhere in the country, we’re uniquely poised to take advantage of this Pacific Century. So if you want to get an idea of what I’m going to be doing, I am going to be talking about and working on L.A.'s position in the Pacific Century and California’s position. Not enough of us understand that this is the key to our future.”
AV: “So one last thing. You didn’t ask what I’m proud of. You wanted to talk legacy and you said how is the city better, but let me tell you something I’m proud of and this is something in particular for the L.A. Times. When I was first running, not you all, but your reporters described me as the Latino candidate for mayor. There was a lot of talk — what did it mean to elect me, someone who, by the way, was born here and has roots here for 100 years — what did it mean. And I said back then, I want to be a mayor for everyone. And I had to go all the way to the publisher to change that description, because I said to them, “Look, if you describe me as the Latino candidate for mayor, you’re saying to everybody who’s not Latino, I’m not their candidate. They said, ‘Well, you’re making history.’ And I said ‘That’s true, write a story about how I’m making history.’ Kathleen Connell is in the race, she’d make history too, first woman; Joel Wachs, first openly gay candidate, he’d be making history; Steve Soboroff is Jewish, he’d be making history. I said, ‘I was born here. I’m an American.’ I’m proud of that … 12 years later. I tell people, half the people like me, as you said, half the people don’t. Almost nobody in this town describes me as the Latino mayor. I love that. We had a big celebration of our ethnic heritage, our multi-cultural heritage in this town. And by the way, contrary to what you might have read in some of the essays or articles out there, we’ve been doing that every year. Every year, we have that celebration. Now this one was bigger, and this one was also an opportunity to say goodbye. Why? Because I had advocated the notion that L.A.'s strength is the fact that we’re so diverse. That we come from every corner of the earth. I love that about L.A. And I’m proud of this — 13 years later, 12 years later— L.A. is more comfortable with its diversity. In fact, I think today, L.A. revels in its diversity. Nobody even thinks about me being from here, from there. You know, I’m just — the mayor. I’m proud of that. I’m not saying I’m the only one who’s played a role in that, of course not, but I am proud that I opened up a door. And in that vein, that’s why I’m so passionate about education. I’ve said that when you open up the door for one of us, you open up the door for all of us. I was at the home of an Armenian family last night for dinner, beautiful family, and they said, ‘You know, the Armenians really support you.’ I was with an important Korean singer, he said ‘The Koreans really support you.’ And I said, you know, if I’d gotten support from Israelis and Persians and Chinese and Filipinos and Armenians, it’s because when they saw me run, they said, ‘If he can do it, my kid can do it too.’ And they all shook their head at dinner while we were feasting on a great meal. And it’s true. So I love L.A. [slaps the table]. I’m ready to ride into the sunset.”
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