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100 Very Busy Days for Mayor

Villaraigosa's energetic start raises hopes, but some grow impatient for action on tough issues.

October 07, 2005|Patrick McGreevy, Richard Fausset and Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writers

His day began with a speech in Koreatown. Next he was off to MacArthur Park to raise money for victims of a fire, followed by a prostate cancer awareness event in Boyle Heights, a downtown health fair, a South L.A. police roll call, a Watts gospel concert and, finally, a Northridge celebration of India's independence.

So went one day in August for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- a Saturday, in fact. Before sundown, he also found time to have brunch with state Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) and get some work done at the office.

Villaraigosa pledged that he would bring more energy to the mayoralty than his predecessor, James K. Hahn. And as he approaches his 100th day in office Saturday, he has worked to fulfill that campaign promise with an indefatigable, barnstorming style.

As mayor of the nation's second-largest city and its first Latino leader in more than a century, Villaraigosa also has found himself thrust into the role of national political figure, with all the attendant demands on his time.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 08, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Mayor's travels -- A map in Friday's Section A with an article about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's first 100 days in office failed to indicate that West Hollywood and San Fernando are separately incorporated cities, not part of the city of Los Angeles.

It has all added up to a fizzy extended honeymoon, full of TV crews, autograph seekers and well-wishers, and a sense that something exciting is happening in Los Angeles.

Villaraigosa said it was important for him to put a face -- namely his -- on city government early on. And that has meant, in part, following a well-known key to success: simply showing up.

"In my many travels throughout the city, I have noticed a difference in people -- there is a sense of newfound possibility throughout the city," he said.

In a series of public events Thursday, including a media briefing in the ornate ballroom atop City Hall, the mayor said he had put more than 24,000 miles on his city-issued SUV since the start of his term.

"That's what this job is -- people want to see you in their neighborhoods," Villaraigosa said.

But with many of his most ambitious ideas -- a school system takeover, a subway to the Pacific, an expanded Los Angeles Police Department -- far from fruition, the mayor remains vulnerable to one of the main criticisms Hahn leveled in the spring campaign: that he was "a smile and a fancy suit," whose rhetoric would outweigh his accomplishments. Some of his political moves during the first 100 days leave him open to the criticism that he plays "both sides of the fence," as one observer suggested, in order to please as many people as possible.

Supporters say three months is not a lot of time to accomplish the kind of dramatic goals Villaraigosa set. They suggest the mayor has laid the groundwork and is building political capital that he can cash in when he has to make tough decisions -- such as possibly increasing taxes or fees to pay for an expansion of the Police Department.

"He's done an excellent job of reaching out across the cultural and political divide in Los Angeles," said John Shallman, who headed the campaign for Bob Hertzberg, mayoral candidate and now Villaraigosa ally. "It has helped him become popular. That popularity is something I am hopeful he will use to enact a bold agenda of initiatives."

Former Mayor Richard Riordan, a close advisor to Villaraigosa, said the strategy will prove to be a sound one.

"Just wait," Riordan said. "You are going to see some great things come out of this administration."

On Thursday, Villaraigosa released a four-page summary of his achievements so far.

"I see a hundred days as an opportunity to build a foundation for the rest of the days for this four-year administration, and I feel like we have done a good job laying that foundation," Villaraigosa said in an interview with The Times.

Appearing tired, his voice raspy, the mayor slumped slightly over a conference table in the mayoral suite at City Hall, occasionally drumming on the table midquestion as if to show he remained fired up by the job.

Greater things are coming, he said.

But not everyone is enjoying the wait. A scattered grumbling beneath the din of excitement points to two key political challenges Villaraigosa will face in coming years: living up to the high expectations he generated during the campaign, and making small-scale progress that can placate voters while they wait for the big stuff.

Take, for example, Lois Newman, head of the Cat and Dog Rescue Assn.

She is waiting for Villaraigosa to fulfill his campaign promises to replace the management of the city Animal Services Department and expand spay and neuter services.

"I like the mayor, but he's not doing enough," she said. "He has the right instincts, but he just isn't acting on them."

Looking back at his first 100 days, Villaraigosa said the city already has benefited from his hands-on style -- especially when it comes to managing and averting short-term crises.

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