Villaraigosa bows out of governor's contest

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After months of suggesting he might run for governor, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Monday announced he will not. Villaraigosa said he has unfinished work in L.A. – a city he described
“in crisis.” KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: Villaraigosa made the announcement on CNN. He said he felt “compelled” to stay in Los Angeles rather than run for governor to complete unfinished business.

Antonio Villaraigosa: I said to Los Angeles four years ago to dream with me. I said we were going to take on the many challenges that we face in this city: public schools and public safety, the issue of the environment. I said that we were going to do everything we could to come together as a city and I can’t leave this city in the middle of a crisis.

Stoltze: The city faces a record $530 million budget deficit and skyrocketing unemployment. Cal State Fullerton political scientist Raphe Sonenshine said the deficit and unemployment likely were secondary reasons.

Raphe Sonenshine: Y’know, that’s not stopping other people from running who are holding public office right now. I think it’s more the need to finish off some projects so he can point back to a mayoralty that achieved great things. As opposed to one that some have called a failure. I would give it more of an incomplete than a failure.

Stoltze: In any case, Sonenshine says Villaraigosa is no doubt aware of the recent bad press about his job performance and how political opponents might have used it.

A number of civic leaders had urged Villaraigosa, who was just reelected in March, to set aside his political ambitions and finish his work in L.A. A Los Angeles Times poll found a plurality of city residents agreed – even though only about half like his job performance. Those sentiments showed up among callers to KPCC’s "Patt Morrison."

Caller 1: Well, yeah. I just wish he would get back to work and actually accomplish something as mayor.
Caller 2: Thanks for taking my call. Yeah, I am a city employee and I wish we could impeach him.
Caller 3: Oh hi! Thanks for taking my call and my only comment, and I guess it’s just because I am a woman, is just his personal life to me is a mess.

Stoltze: A number of analysts agreed the mayor’s extramarital affair two years ago sucked momentum from his agenda – momentum he never fully regained.

With Villaraigosa out of the race for governor, state Attorney General Jerry Brown faces only San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for the Democratic nomination next year.

Fernando Guerra: I think Newsom has a better chance now that Antonio Villaraigosa is out of the race.

Stoltze: Fernando Guerra is a political scientist at Loyola Marymount University and KPCC board member. He says Newsom becomes the sole “anti-Brown” candidate.

Guerra: People will take a hard look at Jerry Brown, and he (Newsom) will then build more momentum and more quickly with people coalescing around him.

Stoltze: Cal State Fullerton’s Raphe Sonenshine says Villaraigosa’s departure shakes up the race significantly.

Sonenshine: He was going to do exceptionally well with Latino voters, who are roughly a fifth to a quarter of the electorate in the Democratic primary. Plus he would have had a lot of support with African-American voters with whom, according to the L.A. Times poll, he does very well. And this takes a major player out of the race and leaves those two groups much more in play.

Stoltze: Sonenshine maintains the 70-year-old Brown, who was governor in the late 1970s and ‘80s, remains the frontrunner.

As for Villaraigosa – he signaled that he’ll continue to focus not just on Los Angeles but beyond in his role as a vice president with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Villaraigosa: My focus will be on the national stage, really making the case for cities in metropolitan areas. That if we’re going to turn America around, we’ve got to turn our cities around.

Stoltze: Analysts say the mayor is young, and could easily think about a run for governor in four years, or a run for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat when she retires, or a position in the Obama Administration.

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