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Lobbying hard for L.A. in D.C.

Led by Mayor Villaraigosa, a delegation is in Washington to meet with officials and push for getting more of a regional return on tax dollars.

April 17, 2008|James Hohmann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Santa Monica Mayor Herb Katz is lobbying for increased federal funding for a light rail project to connect East and West Los Angeles.

The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, David L. Brewer III, wants more federal dollars for No Child Left Behind Act mandates, financial aid to students and anti-gang programs.

Pushing for such things as better ports and affordable housing, a group of nearly 200 Los Angeles-area civic and business leaders led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and organized mainly by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce began two intense days of lobbying Congress on Wednesday.

"Our job is to advocate for our fair share," Villaraigosa told them. "Most of you know full well that when you look at what California gets for its tax dollars, and what Los Angeles gets, it's obviously nothing of what we could or should receive."

For his part, Villaraigosa held a news conference with Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to call for $1 billion in government grants to local governments to subsidize jobs for 1 million teenagers this summer. He also pushed for immigration reform.

At 8 a.m., the lobbying group assembled in an ornate ballroom to hear a briefing from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the first Californian to become speaker of the House.

"Know your power," she said. "When you come, it makes a big difference. People listen."

The breakfast audience even saw a dispute over the proposed Colombia free trade agreement, supported by the L.A. chamber. Pelosi accused the administration of trying to "jam it down the throats of Congress."

Susan C. Schwab, the U.S. trade representative, who followed Pelosi, complained that House Democrats were ruining a great deal.

"The Colombia agreement is in limbo and effectively dead unless the speaker of the House provides a time-specific vote," she said.

The annual "Access Washington" trip is hosted by about 20 local groups. The registration fee was $850 per person, and several companies paid to be official sponsors.

"We're a long way from D.C., so I think we should be here more often," said Fran Inman, a senior vice president at city of Industry-based Majestic Realty Co. "We need to stay actively engaged."

She said she was especially concerned with getting more money for California in a major transportation bill to be considered next year.

Elected officials and businesspeople alike tout the group's size and ambitious goals. They are trying to focus on the areas where there is consensus.

"We can get action on the things we do agree upon," said Tim McCallion, chairman of the chamber and an executive at Verizon. "When they see bipartisan support, that will help spur them into action."

Even though they were competing with Wednesday's visit to the White House by Pope Benedict XVI and a busy congressional calendar, the nonpartisan group was getting plenty of access, especially to the California delegation. At a midday rally, both Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-East Los Angeles) cheered them for trying to get California its due.

Depending on their interests, attendees could choose to join one of 10 teams on issues including climate change and small business. The idea was to let people focus on issues most important to them.

Villaraigosa has actively campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) since last year. Asked if his time in Washington makes him more likely to take an administration post if his favored candidate were to win, he said he was focused on running for reelection in L.A.

"I'd be honored to serve in a Clinton administration," he said, "but I love Los Angeles and the opportunity that Angelenos have given me as their mayor."

Villaraigosa is scheduled to meet with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this morning to discuss immigration and security. The large group will hear from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and continue meeting with individual members of Congress.

"The investments we make today will pay dividends tomorrow," the mayor said.

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james.hohmann@latimes.com

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