I was running an errand in the Valley yesterday when I was contacted by my fellow former Mayoral candidate, David "Zuma Dogg" Saltsburg. Zuma Dogg informed me that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was having a special invitation-only event in Tarzana in an hour and he told me that he could use his contacts to get us into the event. I thought "Why not? I'm nearby anyway" and Zuma Dogg arranged it with a few phone calls. We arrived at Providence Tarzana Medical Center and found that it was a very small event. A few media people were there, but there were fewer than 150 people present.
Most of the attendees had been at an awards luncheon earlier that day hosted by Council Member Dennis Zine, who was also in attendance. As we waited for the Mayor to arrive (about 15 minutes late) I scanned the room and saw that there were several political powerbrokers there, along with three former Mayoral candidates, (myself, Zuma Dogg, and David Hernandez) and several other VIPs including former Daily News editor Ron Kaye.
When the Mayor arrived he worked the back of the room, shaking hands and greeting others. Dennis Zine was on the microphone at the front of the room getting ready to introduce him when a surreal event took place. Mayor Villaraigosa snuck up behind Ron Kaye and gave him a huge bear hug. It shocked me, as Mayor Villaraigosa had recently been dealt a serious political blow by losing on Measure B in the March election -- a campaign that had been highly driven and motivated by the work of Ron Kaye and the various neighborhood councils. Most people didn't know what to think of this scene. Even Dennis Zine said something on the microphone about it, commenting that "See...the Mayor doesn't hold grudges..!". That was exactly the opposite of what some people in the room had expected.
The Mayor went on to give about an hour long presentation, complete with picture graphs and pie charts. He was actually somewhat impressive in front of a crowd that wasn't exactly buying what he was selling. I personally had to grit my teeth several times to avoid saying anything during his presentation. He gave sad, emotion-filled reasons for City employees to "share the sacrifice" of the pain coming in with the new budget. "We don't want to put these people out on the streets!", he said. To me, it was just pure Socialism headed towards the dangerous area of Communism. So...he doesn't want 2800 City employees to lose their jobs? Boo hoo. What about the thousands of people in the private sector who are losing their jobs also? All of this due to a meddling government that crippled the economy with pure nonsense ideas about interfering in the mortgage industry and forcing banks to loan money to people who couldn't pay. If the government had stayed out of it, the banks never would have given those loans and we wouldn't be in this economic meltdown right now.
Now, the Mayors answer is to jack up the tax rates and service fees on everything and give the government an even bigger slice of your paycheck. I think this is the 100% wrong answer. The Mayor did his little song and dance act and tried to explain things in a convincing manner, but for me....no sale. The Mayor talked about his staff deciding to forgo scheduled raises... but he didn't mention that he has 93 personal staff members and 16 Deputy Mayors, every one of whom takes their paycheck directly out of YOUR pocket. There is a lot of deadwood in this city that needs to be cut. I don't care how many jobs need to go...if those people are ineffective and their presence hurts taxpayers more than helps them, then they need to go. Simply put, less government is better government. But government employees always say they are "crucial". Baloney. Always ask yourself the question.."Would the private sector hire this person to do this job?" Most of the time the answer will be "No." Police and firefighters...yes, they are crucial. Other positions...not so much.
The Mayor took written questions , I assume in an effort to avoid someone grandstanding with verbal questions. He answered them one by one, including two from me, as I had handed them to different aides. I asked him to name one person he had ever fired. He said he had fired 13 General managers. Ok...so he says.
I also asked if he was running for Governor in 2010. He has been asked this before and has always danced around the question indirectly, and he did the same yesterday. One small surprise was how he talked about loving his job here and saying "it would take a lot" to get him to run. I was a bit surprised because he sounded more inclined to not run, but he also says it would be "a great honor" if he was chosen to be the party candidate. So, the door is still open there.
Although I have been highly critical of the Mayor in the past, I did see several things yesterday that pleasantly surprised me.
1) The bear hug he gave Ron Kaye sent the message that he sees their battles as political, not personal. It was nice to see that he can still be friends with Ron even after Ron helped to hand him an expensive defeat with Measure B in March.
2) He was facing a somewhat hostile crowd, West Valley residents and property owners, yet he managed to be charming and polite to everyone and kind of excuse himself out of trouble and issues again and again. He paced the floor with the wireless microphone and even leaned in close to people in the first rows. He called people by name and quoted them and praised them. He happily posed for photos with many of the VIPs on the way out of the meeting.
3) He made the comment that "You never see me on TV trashing my opponents, making comments about them. I don't do that." I thought about it and realized that he was right. He doesn't bash anyone. But...after all is said and done, politics is a rough and tumble sport and people get their feelings hurt. It is unavoidable. I couldn't help but think that maybe that comment had been directed at Zuma Dogg or maybe even myself.
4) He acknowledged his lack of popularity. Talking about the election he said "I won re-election. Maybe I wasn't so popular with some people..." then he gave kind of a half laugh. But it made you realize that the election results had hurt him politically and personally - that he had been rejected by 45% of the voters.
Overall, I think the Mayor did a decent job in front of a crowd that weren't his biggest fans. But I still disagree with him politically on where the City is heading. Far too many Socialistic tendencies are coming out of the Democrats in power in City Hall. They are harming the economy and job growth with their excessive regulations and excessive taxation. They are causing productive people and industries to flee the State.
When the Mayor was leaving the event, Zuma Dogg shouted to me "Phil, did you get to talk to the Mayor?"
"No," I said. Zuma Dogg seemed surprised by my answer. "Why not? He's here..", he said.
"I am ideologically opposed to everything this man does and everything he stands for. What would I possibly have to say to him?," I responded. Zuma didn't answer, but tried to catch up to the Mayor, along with a crowd of handlers and press people.
To this day, I have never formally met the Mayor or spoken to him.
And I'm fine with that.