What will Villaraigosa do?

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is running for reelection. Is he also running for governor? He owes Los Angeles an answer. Now.

Voters here will be asked in less than four months to decide whether to give their mayor a second term, and they will decide based not simply on the record he has established since taking office in 2005, but also on his plan for the coming four years. What will he do to make the city more livable? What successes will he build on, what failures will he learn from, and for what benefit to Los Angeles? In weighing those questions, voters deserve to know whether Villaraigosa intends to be around for even a quarter of his new tenure.

This isn’t like it was in 2003, when Villaraigosa ran for the City Council and vowed not to leave halfway through the term to run for mayor. He did run, but he at least served half of the four-year council term to which he was elected.

But in this land of the perpetual election, where the city primary is March 3 and the term begins in July, a reelected Mayor Villaraigosa would be taking his second oath less than a year before voters return to the polls to choose a successor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That means that during the first (and perhaps only) year of his second term, his attention would be elsewhere -- if he is going to run for governor.

And let’s not pretend that he hasn’t spent a great deal of time thinking about it. He’s an ambitious man, and he is regularly asked about his plans. He deflects questions with a throwaway line about how, right now, he’s just focused on being mayor of Los Angeles, a job he loves. It’s a non-answer answer.

And it’s familiar. Rocky Delgadillo served a full term as city attorney, then ran for reelection. All the world knew that after the vote, he would immediately launch a campaign for state attorney general. But when asked about his plans, he answered the same way Villaraigosa answers now. Loves Los Angeles. Focused on current job.

Delgadillo wasn’t focused on the current job. His eye was on bigger things, and the city suffered for it.

Los Angeles elected officials should be able to seek higher office. Tom Bradley, by then in his third mayoral term, ran for governor in 1982 after being reelected in 1981. It’s not a deal-breaker for the coming election, or the one after that, if Villaraigosa intends to move on quickly. The mayor may genuinely be undecided. But now is the time to make up his mind -- and to tell voters just what they will be getting if they elect him to a second term.