Sunday, November 09, 2008

Some New Faces: California

Yesterday folks were already discussing the next election cycle, which elicited a groan from me. They were, however, correct to do so. If we are to get more and better Democrats into Congress, we need to start looking over potential challengers to the "Blue Dogs" and "DLC" types who are, for the most part, nothing more than Republican Lite, and that process has to start now.

I began looking at some of the candidates who might be ready for a shot at Congress, and I didn't have to look too far. The current Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa will be running for a second term as mayor this March, and he should have an easy time of it because the one challenger who might have made it a real race, developer Rick Caruso, has pulled out because he didn't feel it would be in the best interests of his family, especially his younger children. [Note: strictly speaking, the mayoral slot is non-partisan, but Mr. Villaraigosa is a Democrat.]

The Los Angeles Times had a pretty decent article on the Mayor, his first term, and the upcoming race for a second term:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa finishes his first four-year term on a perch that any big-city politician would envy -- no strong opposition, cash in his campaign coffers and a City Hall that is closely in sync with his agenda.

His most formidable potential challenger, billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso, announced Friday that he would not run for the city's top office this year. While Caruso was explaining that decision, Villaraigosa was in Chicago appearing onstage with President-elect Barack Obama. ...

A second term would give Villaraigosa the opportunity to make further progress on goals he set out in his 2005 mayoral campaign, some of which have not been achieved. As he seeks reelection March 3, he will be in a position to strengthen his hold even further on L.A.'s political institutions -- ones with the power to shape policy on crime, education, transportation and the environment. ...

Even though he was a national co-chairman of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, Villaraigosa landed a coveted spot Thursday on Obama's economic transition team. Two days earlier, he helped secure passage of three local ballot measures that will pour up to $50 billion into new transit projects, public schools and community college buildings.

His work on behalf of those tax hikes -- Measures J, Q and R -- drew high praise from business leaders who had said they were critical to rebuilding the area's infrastructure.

When he hit road blocks during the early part of his tenure with respect to control over the schools, he worked hard to get sympathetic people elected to the school board. It's possible that after the March election, 6 out of 7 members of the board will be Villaraigosa allies.

When he had difficulties in realizing his goals for public transportation, (the mayor serves on the MTA), he smoothed over difficulties with another member of that board, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The current city council pretty much goes along with the mayor's broad policy agendas, quibbling only occasionally over the details. Two of his closest allies on the council right now are strong contenders for City Attorney and City Controller. He takes good care of his people.

He also has a broad range of political experience. He served as a State Assemblyman and quickly rose to become a successful Speaker of the California State Assembly (a job akin to herding cats), and left that position only because of the state's term limits law.

So what's next after term limits once again puts Mr. Villaraigosa out of a job? Well, he has two possible paths. The most likely is the one that leads to the governor's mansion, although he has been reticent to the point of coyness when this possibility is discussed. His stint as Assembly Speaker certainly gives him plenty of name recognition in the northern part of the state, something past Southern California candidates have had problems with.

Or, depending on what Sen. Dianne Feinstein decides to do, he might even consider a run for the Senate. He has been busily building ties to national party leaders, as evidenced by his work on the Clinton campaign and then, amazingly enough, the Obama transition team. If he can get through the primary, he should get party support and dollars.

So, there you have it, the ideal candidate: experienced, a slick politician with a proven track record on progressive issues, a Latino in a state with a growing Latino population. Is there any downside?

Well, sadly, there is. Mayor Villaraigosa suffers from a common male politician malady: wardrobe malfunction, as in he can't keep his zipper up. He lost a lot of time, energy, and political capital because of an extramarital affair in his first term which ultimately ended his marriage. Will that handicap him in the future? It's hard to tell. It certainly doesn't appear to have hurt him when it comes to the current campaign, but he really doesn't have a strong challenger at this point. A state-wide race may be another matter. He has a couple of years to put that behind him with a strong, effective second term, assuming no further lapses in judgment.

If that happens, he just might be ready for Prime Time.

Note: I'd like to make this an ongoing feature, so if you have a local or state politician who's also ready for Prime Time, write it up and email it to me. I'll post it.



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