Despite increased speculation that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may be heading to Washington, he said Monday that he would not be joining President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet.
Villaraigosa said he had a "conversation" with Obama in mid-November about joining the new Democratic administration but told the incoming president that he would stay in Los Angeles to focus on his reelection campaign and ongoing efforts to address the city's financial troubles and other pressing issues.
"I'm honored and flattered to have been considered for an appointment in the Obama administration," Villaraigosa told The Times on Monday. "I made it clear I love what I do. And I feel that at this moment in my life, this is the job in which I can best serve my city and country."
Bolting to the Obama administration, while potentially beneficial to Villaraigosa's long-term political ambitions, would have created political mayhem in Los Angeles.
Villaraigosa faces no strong opposition in the city's March primary election, and the deadline for mayoral candidates to file has already passed. No other candidates would be allowed to run for mayor unless they were write-ins, according to city election officials.
Aside from Villaraigosa, 21 others have filed to run for mayor and have until Wednesday to gather enough signatures from registered voters in the city to qualify for the March ballot. Four candidates have qualified so far: Villaraigosa; attorney Walter Moore; legal assistant Carlos Alvarez; and union meat packer James Harris. Moore, who finished sixth in the 2005 mayoral race and is a regular on local talk radio, said he never believed the chitchat that Villaraigosa was destined for a Cabinet post. "I have more faith in Obama than that," Moore said.
The mayor's name continues to surface, in part, because of growing pressure on Obama to appoint an ethnically diverse Cabinet and disappointment by some Latino leaders that he passed over New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for secretary of State, nominating Sen. Hillary Clinton instead. "There's a growing angst. But we're still optimistic," said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.
Times staff writer Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.