Villaraigosa's last days: A grand exit for a mediocre mayor

L.A. mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa lived large and pretended to be in charge. That grand illusion is being celebrated with grand events. Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

LOS ANGELES, June 7, 2013 — Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will leave the office on July 1, and he does not plan to go quietly. His mayoral legacy will be celebrated with parties and private events throughout the month.

Villaraigosa is no stranger to the party scene. Just Google that December 2012 picture of him with actor Charlie Sheen in Baja, California. He has spent much of his time over the past eight years traveling, socializing, and arranging photo opportunities with the political and entertainment elite, but very little time governing the second largest city in the nation.

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Over his two terms as mayor, Villaraigosa has regularly jetted off to San Francisco, D.C., London, and Israel supposedly promoting and assisting Los Angeles, More often than not, he was promoting and assisting himself.

In 2008, the LA Weekly wrote a scathing article, “The All-About-Me Mayor: Antonio Villaraigosa’s Frenetic Self-Promotion.” The Weekly obtained documents with Villaraigosa’s heavily redacted weekly schedule, which revealed that the mayor spends a good part of his work day preparing to fly in and out of town, holding staged press conferences and events, attending banquets, ceremonies and parties, raising political money, and providing face time to high-powered special interest groups in a position to assist his own political advancement.

“No mayor has been out of town like Antonio, not in my time in Los Angeles,” former Los Angeles Daily News editor Ron Kaye observed. “And part of his game is to be buried in nonsense. … He needs to get to work!”

It has been four years since that article was written. For many Angelenos, he never did get to work, but kept up that good show to make it look as though he had. Villaraigosa made grand projections and focuses for his time in office. He proclaimed himself to be the “greenest Mayor in America” through initiatives to build more renewable energy, plant a million trees, and eliminate L.A.’s use of coal.

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These goals garnered him high points and kudos from the environmental activists and community leaders, and he achieved some of them, with L.A. moving from 4 percent renewable energy to nearly 20 percent at the end of his term.

He only managed to plant half of those trees, and his recent push for a $500 million railyard project which would serve the Port of Los Angeles, has made him less of a darling to the environmental set.

Villaraigosa’s most notable pratfall was probably his tilting at windmills in trying to take on the behemoth Los Angeles Unified School District. In Los Angeles, the Mayor has no say in the running of the schools. It was a losing battle to begin with, and he lost it spectacularly. Of course, he spun it as though it was a victory, just like the illusionist he is.

Despite these grand plans and the resultant press he got from it, Villaraigosa’s failure to govern the nuts and bolts of Los Angeles was glaringly obvious. He was contemplating a gubernatorial run as the city became mired in recession and failed to respond timely or appropriately.

His last minute budget is all smoke and mirrors. As Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times tells it, “the projected budget numbers tell a story of unfinished business. Villaraigosa didn’t get enough of what he needed, and the next mayor will inherit a mess that could quickly lead to a war.”

As the streets got more shoddy and neighborhood crime started to spike, Villaraigosa was fighting the fallout from his lifestyle of excess. He had an affair with a news reporter, which ultimately led to the demise of his marriage. That combined with Ticketgate, where city businesses and entities enabled his “celebrity Mayor” status with free tickets to pricey events, continued to show just how much he cared about Antonio and how little he cared about the actual running of a city.

As Villaraigosa makes his exit, he is putting less emphasis on tying up loose ends and more on going out in style. The mayor started his week by hosting the King of Belgium at the Getty House, and will spend the remaining 23 days of his term bouncing around the city to events held in his honor. The man could not sit still for the past eight years, so why should we expect he would do it now?

Tonight, Villaraigosa is being thrown a party of epic proportions. “The Ultimate L.A. Block Party,” at Grand Park touts a celebrity guest list that includes, former President Bill Clinton, Stevie Wonder and American Idol host Ryan Seacrest as emcee. Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti is even making an appearance to help Villaraigosa have a good send off.

What is this costing the Los Angeles taxpayer? Somewhere in the ball park of $75,000 for police, street services, and other costs. It is as though Villaraigosa is saying, “Here’s the bill, Los Angeles. Thanks for the memories.”

Party on, Antonio, party on.

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Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is the "In My Orbit" columnist for Washington Times Communities, writes on Los Angeles Faith and Community for, teaches Yoga, and coaches on careers and reinvention.

You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website: (

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