Friday, June 1, 2007


More Antonio Villaraigosa City Hall coverage at Mayor Sam's Sister City blog


L.A. mayor's smooth ride has gotten bumpier
A park melee, a schools snub and other setbacks slow Villaraigosa's midterm momentum.

Cast your own vote on his office record so far. Full LA Times Story and cast your vote

By Duke Helfand, Times Staff Writer
June 1, 2007

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa soared through his first year in office on a wave of public support that made him a daunting political force almost destined for higher office.

But a recent rough patch has raised questions about whether he has lost some of that early luster.

The courts snubbed Villaraigosa's plan to gain significant control over Los Angeles public schools. Chicago inched out L.A. for a chance to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

A police riot squad beat immigrant-rights marchers and journalists in MacArthur Park last month, prompting the mayor to cut short a highly promoted trip to Central America.

And last week, Villaraigosa lost an ugly public battle over bus fare increases, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials later spoke of delaying several projects because of budget woes, including the mayor's vaunted subway to the sea beneath Wilshire Boulevard.

Now, as Villaraigosa approaches the midpoint of his four-year term, political observers agree that he is scrambling to maintain his initial momentum and deliver tangible results on numerous promises, even as recent events have opened the door to rare public criticism from at least one prominent elected leader: county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Villaraigosa and his senior aides acknowledge the recent disappointments but prefer to see them as minor bumps overshadowed by the mayor's accomplishments on education, public safety, mass transit, the environment and city budgeting. [I'm sure they would prefer to see it that way. So would we. We would prefer to see ONE of these accomplishments. And saying you accomplished it, isn't the accomplishment.]

They say, for example, that he deserves credit for balancing the city's books and dramatically reducing a $295-million structural deficit — by more than $200 million — amid declining revenues. [Yeah, he cut every department except his travel and staff budget.]

They also speak of his successful effort to win an increase in trash collection fees to hire 1,000 additional police officers [You call having to raise fees, for what the city should be providing is successful? Plus, you haven't hired the cops yet, dummy] -- saying the city is well on its way to meeting the goal as the rate of violent crime — including gang homicides — drops. [GOOD! Why don't you take a walk down those streets with the reduced violent crime?]

They single out his efforts this year to tackle gang crime by devoting more money to suppression and prevention programs. [Insert commentary here.]

And they point to Villaraigosa's securing billions of dollars in state bond money for mass transit projects [I thought the voters voted that in, and now it's gonna be bilked by the politicans]— including carpool lanes on the 405 Freeway — and an aggressive expansion of the Department of Water and Power's use of alternative energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. [Yeah, he wants to invest people's pension funds -- he calls them "our" pension funds -- into speculative, alternative, niche technology. I am all for the development of these "green" technologies, but City pensions should be invested into something less risky. Leave the gambling to Vegas.]

"The real story here is that we're on track," Villaraigosa said Thursday as he signed his second city budget, which, like his first, won unanimous support from the City Council. [Yeah, he's on track...on the rails of Ozzy's "Crazy Train", if he believes that.]

Villaraigosa and his senior deputies even claim victory on the education front. They argue that, despite successive legal setbacks to his plan to take control of the schools, the mayor has effectively won by elevating the discussion about reforming the Los Angeles Unified School District. ["EVALUATING DISCUSSION" DOES NOT A WINNER MAKE. IT IS ONLY A WIN ONCE THE KIDS BENEFIT.]

With his board majority in hand, Villaraigosa is working behind the scenes to secure many of the reforms he was denied by the courts. [And this means the kids won't win.]

His office is in preliminary talks with Green Dot Public Schools, a prominent charter school operator and a frequent foe of the district, to possibly oversee a high school and the middle and elementary schools that feed it, and to shape a broader reform agenda. [Yeah, let Antonio be involved in Charter reform. SEE SEMILLA STORY ON THIS BLOG to see what can go wrong. That's his district.]

Higher expectations

Villaraigosa's closest allies and associates say he has raised expectations at City Hall and infused local government with a culture that encourages risk taking over fear of failure. He has won praise from many outside of government for his selection of talented general managers and senior staff. [O.K., now the Times can tell Antonio they did the best they could to soften the hit. "Infused" (manage by chaos and fear), risk taking (that's what I said about the pension money), fear of failure (he has no shame, he'll try and get away with anything, then all these judges have to beat him down.]

"This mayor moves the needle by taking on big issues," said City Councilman Jack Weiss, one of his closest allies on the City Council. "Sometimes he succeeds outright…. And other times, he gets results just by taking on the issue itself."
[Oh we all KNOW the mayor is in trouble. They could only get a good quote from Weissass. Yeah, the mayor took on a big issue: You're City Attorney Campaign amidst your re-call campaign, you political kryptonite-anvil.

Other times, however, he alienates fellow leaders in his push to be at the front of the line. {You mean, once he didn't.]

That was the case last week when Villaraigosa and Yaroslavsky, a fellow MTA board member, clashed publicly over a plan to raise bus fares.

During the heated exchange, Yaroslavsky said that Villaraigosa had indicated his support for a fare increase in a closed session last summer after the board agreed to a new contract with bus drivers and mechanics.

An angry Villaraigosa criticized Yaroslavsky for mischaracterizing closed-door discussions and for failing to offer his own compromise, calling the supervisor a "sheep who walks in wolf's clothing."

Yaroslavsky declined Thursday to talk about the dust-up.

The exchange was a rare moment for Villaraigosa. Few public figures have been willing to openly criticize him, even as they grouse privately about his penchant for grandstanding. As one City Hall veteran put it: If Yaroslavsky opened the door slightly for others to disparage Villaraigosa, few are willing to walk through it just yet.

And that means Villaraigosa will probably retain his unofficial title as the region's chief political heavyweight heading into the final two years of his first term.

The question, then, is whether he can continue to deliver on his ambitious agenda, given voters' hunger for concrete results.

"It's like the end of halftime at a basketball game. He's had some setbacks at the end of the first half," said Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton who has written extensively about Los Angeles politics.

"He's probably going to be facing harsher evaluations" in the next two years, Sonenshein added. "He'll get less leeway. That's normal when you have a popular start." [Great, so you got the student with all "D"s having added scrutiny placed on him. Ha! The guys a sinking ship. Titanio Villagrosa!

Steve Hymon contributed to this story. [Yeah, the Jack Weiss quote, I bet.]


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