Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa Monday appointed the prominent global financial advisor Austin Beutner as his deputy mayor for economic development. He made the announcement amid criticism of his efforts to create and retain jobs in the city.
The mayor appointed Beutner to the newly created position of Deputy Mayor and Chief Executive for Economic and Business Policy.
“Austin's appointment is the first step towards a total re-engineering if you will, a refocusing of economic development and job creation in the city," said Villaraigosa.
Beutner, 49, is well-known in financial circles.
He and former U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman co-founded Evercore Partners, a financial services firm that manages money for institutional investors around the world.
In the mid-1990s, he led a U.S. State Department team that helped Russia’s transition to a market economy. Beutner told reporters he wants to foster a similar change at L.A. City Hall.
“We have to think of business like a client of ours. If they're satisfied, if we are serving their needs," said Beutner. "So the first is really to change the culture of how we think of business at City Hall."
Beutner will have broad authority, including oversight of the airports, Port of L.A. and Department of Water and Power. He said he wants to leverage the city’s considerable buying power at those departments to persuade businesses to stay in or move to L.A.
“Businesses need to understand we are open for business. We want to do business with them. But we need to make sure they are doing business in the City of Los Angeles," said Beutner.
He said the he wants to make sure the city's department managers are doing all they can to help businesses — "make sure they're singing from the same script.”
Beutner said there’d likely be staff changes. He added that he expects to have a hand in the selection of the next head of the DWP.
City Councilman Tom LaBonge praised Beutner’s appointment.
“The quarterback’s the mayor. He’s called the star player in to make a difference," said LaBonge.
Beutner’s arrival at City Hall originated at a meeting orchestrated by former Mayor Richard Riordan, a friend who runs in some of L.A.’s wealthiest circles.
“About a month ago, I had a meeting with a number of the top leaders in L.A. at the request of Mayor Villaraigosa to try to get them interested in helping with economic development of the city," said Riordan. He said group included Eli Broad, Michael Milken and Beutner.
Riordan said Beutner offered to take an active role in helping the city.
The head of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, Gary Toebben, took care not to criticize the mayor.
But he said the appointment was overdue.
“We have got to make some significant changes and create a focus on jobs like we have not had in recent years."
Toebbin said he’d especially like to see the city streamline permitting for businesses.
For Beutner, taking a deputy mayor role might seem like a step down. He’ll take a salary of just one dollar a year.
“If we were sitting in a time of four percent unemployment, I might be doing something else. But I think given 14 percent unemployment and a chance to make a contribution, that's the time you're needed," said Beutner.
"And I hope frankly that others in the private sector also see the need and when call and ask them to help, they will help.”
Given Beutner’s reputation, it’s likely that at least they’ll return his calls.