Los Angeles had a stay-at-home kind of mayor and didn't much like it, so the city dumped James K. Hahn and voted in a player. Antonio Villaraigosa told voters they lived in a big city, one worthy of a big-city mayor who could hold his own not just with high-profile mayors from New York or Chicago but with presidents. He said he would go to Sacramento, Washington or anywhere else to put L.A. at the top of the national political agenda. On this point, he was as good as his word. It was no surprise when he went to Asia or Latin America. It should be no surprise now that he is spending so much time out of state in a last-ditch effort to salvage Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.
The Times reported Monday that Villaraigosa has spent 18 of the last 65 days out of town, campaigning for Clinton. In just over two months, that's nearly a third of his time. Traveling with him are City Hall aides (using vacation days) and his police security detail. Is Los Angeles winning or losing from this arrangement?
This is a city with a split personality. We often take comfort in our low-key, under-the-radar ways. We shirk the national stage. We are ambivalent about our civic identity. But we demand the respect, and the share of resources, that are due the nation's great cities. We insist that our leaders wrest from the nation's capital the funding we need to ease traffic, gang crime and other urban ills that are especially vexing in this metropolis.
Villaraigosa made no secret of his place in the political universe or his support for Clinton. If she is successful, Villaraigosa will be in an even stronger position to advocate for the city. If she falls short, Barack Obama would be wise to pay the mayor a visit.
There is a nagging concern among many that in his presidential politicking, Villaraigosa is scoring points not for Los Angeles but for himself. But that possibility too comes with selecting a player rather than a homebody to be mayor. In the year between now and his intended reelection day, voters can decide whether Villaraigosa packed his suitcase with enough goodies for the city to make the trips worthwhile, or, in fact, whether he was sorely missed when he was gone.