Villaraigosa to face economic, community challenges keeping campaign promises

Daily Sundial

A day after making history as the first Latino elected mayor of Los Angeles in over a century, Antonio Villaraigosa, current Los Angeles city councilmember, must now start making good on promises to end stagnation in the City of Angels.

That is easier said than done.

“The mayor doesn’t have that much power,” said Martin Saiz, CSUN assistant political science professor.

Saiz said he estimates that as mayor, Villaraigosa, might have control of possibly 10 percent of the city’s overall budget. He will have the power to recommend and appoint commissioners throughout the city, but even that has its limits.

“Harbors are hard to control,” Saiz said. “Airports are hard to control. Up to fairly recently, police chiefs have been hard to control.”

Villaraigosa received about 58.7 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, compared with incumbent Mayor James Hahn’s 41.3 percent.

Saiz said traffic and economic development are two issues Villaraigosa must deal with if he is going to be a successful mayor.

“There seems to be stagnation in those areas,” Saiz said. “(Traffic) is regional. The mayor can’t control the flow of traffic coming from other cities.”

Saiz said he thinks Villaraigosa would be wise to use some of the energy he displayed throughout the mayoral campaign.

“(He has to make) sure everybody knows L.A. is business-friendly,” Saiz said. “Be vigorous. Constantly push the city to be on the economic forefront.”

Tom Hogen-Esch, CSUN assistant political science professor, said he recommends that Villaraigosa learn a lesson from the mistakes of President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton, and start with small, incremental changes.

Hogen-Esch said Bush tried to use the momentum of his reelection to push his Social Security reform proposal, and is now “looking down the barrel of defeat,” and Clinton bit off more than he could chew when his attempt to create a national health care program failed following his election to the White House.

“That’s the quandary every political leader faces,” Hogen-Esch said. “With a landslide victory, Villaraigosa really does have a mandate. But he can’t forget, nothing in Los Angeles gets done without building a coalition.”

Any political leader must “start off with what’s doable,” Hogen-Esch said.

Villaraigosa could become a victim of his own rhetoric, he said.

“(If you’re Villaraigosa), you’ve made all these broad claims about being a great leader and a coalition builder,” Hogen-Esch said. “Now what are you going to do?”

If Villaraigosa were to tackle a big issue, such as education, early on in his term and the effort should fail, his political ascent would end and his descent would begin, Hogen-Esch and Saiz both said.

Even effective change can work against someone in the complicated and varied world of Los Angeles politics, Hogen-Esch said.

“The irony of this campaign is (that) Hahn’s best decision (was) getting rid of a police chief (Bernard Parks, who was) standing in the way of reform, (and) is the biggest reason for his losing the election,” Hogen-Esch said.

In a surprise to many experts, about 58.3 percent of African Americans voted for Villaraigosa in Tuesday’s election, compared with the 41.7 percent who voted for Hahn, according to an exit poll conducted by the Center for the Study of Los Angeles, based at Loyola Marymount University.

Villaraigosa’s support from Caucasians was almost consistent with Villaraigosa’s support from the African American community, with Villaraigosa receiving about 59.4 percent of the Caucasian vote, and Hahn receiving about 40.6 percent, according to the C.S.L.A. poll.

Latinos voted for Villaraigosa in larger numbers than did members of any other ethnic group, with Villaraigosa receiving about 86.3 percent of the Latino vote, compared with Hahn’s 13.7 percent, according to the poll.

Asian Americans, who received little candidate attention during the time leading up to the election, were the only major ethnic group Villaraigosa failed to receive a majority vote from, with Hahn receiving 59.6 percent, compared with Villaraigosa’s 40.4 percent, according to the C.S.L.A. poll.

“The Asian community is generally pro-business,” Hogen-Esch said.

The fact that Hahn was by and large perceived as more business-friendly than Villaraigosa partly explains why more Asian Americans voted for Hahn, Hogen-Esch said.

Hogen-Esch said Villaraigosa, whose supporters raised millions of dollars on his behalf, would be wise to follow the advice of former California Speaker of the House Jessie Unruh.

“Unruh said (about campaign supporters), ‘You’ve got to be able to eat their food, drink their wine, sleep with their women and then vote against them,'” Hogen-Esch said.