As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 20, 2009

CA-Gov: A Look At Mayor Villaraigosa

We've had less than glowing reviews of the public comments of potential gubernatorial candidates Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, but there has been somewhat less talk about the other leading potential candidate, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. His re-election performance was uninspired and listless, but that's not a description of his policies.

I have said in the past that the enduring image of Villaraigosa's leadership is a crane in front of a half-finished building. Now we are seeing him tested in a time of crisis. Los Angeles has a close to $1 billion dollar deficit, and he is trying to balance cuts with continued support for labor, and the results have not been pretty. While Villaraigosa led the effort to add a penny to the sales tax for public transit, he has vowed not to raise local taxes to cover the deficit, and as a result, the mayor will cut salaries for city workers almost across the board by 10%, and LA Unified will lay off 5,000 teachers this year.

Los Angeles school district officials moved forward Tuesday with plans to lay off more than 5,000 teachers, counselors, custodians, clerks and other employees, but the battle over funding will rage on for weeks -- affecting who goes, who stays and what schools and classrooms will look like for students next year.

The Board of Education's 4-3 vote, after more than four hours of pleading and debate, closed most of a $596.1-million deficit for next year in the nation's second-largest school system.

"Anger is appropriate and outrage is appropriate," said school board President Monica Garcia, who voted with the majority. "Nobody wants to do these layoffs."

While the board, which Villaraigosa effectively bought after a series of election cycles, did spare 1,900 elementary school teachers, the layoffs will be deeply felt, particularly in those ten schools the Mayor personally controls.

In his State of the City speech last week, Villaraigosa denounced Sacramento lawmakers, yet he supports the same failed propositions that will not address the structural problems with state government, and he did nothing, of course, to move forward on any of those while Speaker of the Assembly. However, he did spend a lot of time in his speech talking about his innovative environmental policies in Los Angeles, which have had an impact.

Villaraigosa denounced the "politics of no" as he called for a green technology hub along the west side of the Los Angeles River to attract new jobs and start-up companies.

"We need to build a future in which clean technology is as synonymous with Los Angeles as motion pictures or aerospace," said the mayor, appearing at the Harbor City factory of Balqon Corp., which manufactures electric big-rigs for use at the city's ports [...]

As a centerpiece of his speech, Villaraigosa reintroduced his plan for a "green" industry corridor just east of downtown that would serve as a spawning ground for environmentally conscious businesses. The speech echoed Villaraigosa's message during his recent reelection campaign, when he promised to make Los Angeles "the greenest big city in America."

Over the last four years, Villaraigosa has pushed the Port of Los Angeles to replace up to 17,000 diesel trucks with cleaner-burning models. And at the Department of Water and Power, he has pressed officials to expand the utility's reliance on renewable sources of energy -- primarily wind, solar and geothermal power.

And that agenda could be scaled up to offer a new economic future for California. Villaraigosa selected longtime green activist David Freeman as his environmental deputy, and as a result you'll probably see some form of solar initiative along the lines of Measure B, which was defeated in March, come into law.

So there are glimmers here. But I will personally never forget Villaraigosa leaving town in 2006 for an 18-day Asian trip in the middle of the Schwarzenegger-Angelides race, and neglecting to even endorse Angelides until late in the campaign (and even then, not in Los Angeles). The Mayor has a few good ideas, has been less successful with the follow-through, and on the big structural issues has offered no vision of reform.

We still have no movement candidate in this race.

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