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Villaraigosa Takes Oath of Office, Makes Plans for Extravagant Gala

Inauguration eve charity event triggers concerns about disclosing donations.

June 17, 2005|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Antonio Villaraigosa took the oath of office Thursday afternoon to become the 41st mayor of Los Angeles in a private ceremony in his City Hall office, although he does not officially take over until July 1.

Villaraigosa plans a public swearing-in ceremony on the south lawn of City Hall, after Mayor James K. Hahn's term expires.

City officials traditionally take the oath early as well, so there is no break in service between midnight June 30, when the predecessor's term expires, and the time the new elected official takes the oath.

"It's simply to ensure that there is no gap in leadership," said City Clerk Frank Martinez, who administered the oath to Villaraigosa.

Martinez was one of a small number in attendance, including a few aides, Villaraigosa's wife, Corina, and his children, Antonio Jr. and Natalia Fe.

Villaraigosa's office said the mayor-elect would have no comment on the brief ceremony.

Reporters who asked Thursday morning for advanced warning of when Villaraigosa would take the oath were told that aides would get back to them with that information. At 4:58 p.m., Villaraigosa's office sent an e-mail saying the ceremony had occurred at 4:10 p.m.

Unlike the no-frills inaugurations held by his two most recent predecessors, Villaraigosa's two-day celebration will include a black-tie dinner featuring actor Jimmy Smits as master of ceremonies, dancing under the stars and special attention to those who pony up $25,000 for a table for 10.

The inauguration eve gala at the Music Center is expected to raise $600,000 to $1 million for the LA's BEST after-school program.

"I'm real concerned about the need to expand after-school programs in our city, and I thought it was a great opportunity for us to invest in an organization that people know well," Villaraigosa said. "My hope and expectation is we're going to do a great job of raising new monies to expand after-school programs in Los Angeles."

The event is expected to draw 1,200 people donating at least $500 each, and will likely surpass the most successful fundraiser held by LA's BEST, which raised $600,000, said Carla Sanger, the group's president and CEO.

The nonprofit group provides after-school programs for 21,000 children in 130 schools, Sanger said.

"We believe we will be able to add children to the program because of this event. Ticket sales are just booming," Sanger said, adding the program costs $5 per child per day.

Hahn provided money in the fiscal year that starts next month to expand LA's BEST to eight more schools, but he leaves office failing to fulfill his promise to put the program in every eligible school in the city.

He missed by about 40 schools.

Some City Hall watchers voiced mild concern that the gala event would allow lobbyists, city contractors and others to get on the new mayor's good side by donating to a charity he chose.

Those who contribute $25,000 get 10 tickets to a VIP cocktail reception with the mayor before the dinner.

Robert Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said his reading of the invitation is that it asks people to donate at Villaraigosa's request, which would trigger a state law requiring disclosure of all contributions of $5,000 or more.

"It's important to know who is giving to a charity at an official's request, who is trying to influence them, perhaps," Stern said.

Representatives of the private firm hired to accept donations for the gala did not return calls Thursday.

Hahn took the oath of office for mayor in 2001 without a gala requiring tuxedoes, as did Richard Riordan in 1993 and 1997.

But in 1993, Riordan played host to an elegant, catered dinner for 40 city officials at his Brentwood mansion the night of the public inauguration.

The public ceremony at City Hall that day featured a portable trailer from McDonald's selling Happy Meals.

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