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Patt Morrison on LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's political future

by Take Two®

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DNC Chair Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC, which concludes today, nominated U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. Alex Wong/Getty Images

With the Presidential election over, focus is turning to whom President Obama will choose for his second term cabinet. Here in Los Angeles, eyes are on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and what he will choose to do next.  

Villaraigosa’s term as Mayor of Los Angeles will come to a close in seven months, and he will have some big decisions to make. It could be another step in his political career, either with a position on the President’s cabinet, possibly as Transportation secretary, or DNC chair. But he also could decide to go the private route, either getting a think tank or a corporate job. 

However, he will need to choose carefully if he wants to keep the possibility of Governor of California in his future. 

KPCC’s Pat Morrison talked to Fernando Guerra, head of the Center for Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, about what it would mean if Villaraigosa gave up his position as an executive in charge to become a functionary for President Obama’s agenda. 

“Being a secretary you are not completely autonomous, you are going to have to follow the President’s agenda, and that might sometimes go against the State of California,” said Guerra. “It might be that high-speed rail regarding transportation, and that might not benefit him. So if he wants to remain viable as a statewide candidate he needs to remain autonomous.” 

Villaraigosa has confided in both Morrison and Guerra that he might prefer to take a break from political life by taking up a job in the private sector before he commits to a decision about what move he wants to make in the future.

With the option of cabinet member or DNC chair available to him, a hiatus from the public eye could be a smart move for him. However, as Guerra points out, “There is always a risk because when you are out of sight you are out of mind, and for a public figure that is very dangerous.”

Considering his future in the political scene, there is the question of how the affair he had a few years ago might affect his political legacy. However, as with other high profile political figures with public scandals, such as President Clinton and General Petraeus, people often place less importance on a figure’s poor decisions as time goes on. Because the scandal was so local, Morrison says, “nationally it may not hurt him as much as it has here in Los Angeles with some voters.” 

When looking forward to Villaraigosa’s future, it’s hard not to look to  at his past. In 2009 on the cover of Los Angeles magazine, there was a photograph of Mayor Villaraigosa with the caption “FAILURE: So much promise, so much disappointment.” As the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles in modern times, Villaraigosa is often compared to Tom Bradley, the city’s first African-American mayor, and most often these comparisons are negative. 

This is because, as the caption on the magazine cover points out, Villaraigosa has many great ideas, but not as much follow through. But Morrison contends that not all of the criticisms of Villaraigosa are true. 

“He is the guy who got the city’s big transit project going. And these are projects that have been under discussion since Bradley was the mayor,” said Morrison. “Bradley was elected mayor five times, that’s one of the reasons we have term limits, and by the end of his 20 years he, too, was getting criticized for things, including just phoning it in. Bradley did what Douglas MacArthur said he would do, just fade away out of a public role, and whatever Villaraigosa does next, I can guarantee you he is not going to do that.”

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