Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's decision Monday to skip the 2010 race for California governor left a two-person contest for the Democratic nomination in which former Gov. Jerry Brown starts with a strong advantage in scooping up much of the mayor's support, political analysts said.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the other contender, appeared likely to tap into Villaraigosa's strong appeal among young voters. But Brown, who has not formally declared, is better known in vote-rich Southern California and is likely to benefit from support among Latinos, African Americans and older voters.
In Los Angeles, which packs a powerful wallop in statewide elections, Brown just slightly trailed Villaraigosa among Democratic voters sizing up potential gubernatorial candidates in a Los Angeles Times Poll released Sunday.
Appearing on CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on Monday afternoon, Villaraigosa announced that he would forgo a bid for governor after months of flirting with a possible run. The mayor, who begins his second, four-year term July 1, said that the decision was "agonizing" but that he felt duty-bound to stay at City Hall to tackle L.A.'s dire fiscal crisis and to see through the policy agenda he launched in 2005.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, June 24, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Antonio Villaraigosa: An article in Section A on Tuesday about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's decision not to run for California governor said his second term ends in 2012. It ends in 2013.
Blitzer cited the Times Poll, in which the mayor received a favorable job approval rating from 55% of those surveyed, statistically equivalent to the vote he won in the city's March election against a field of little-known and underfunded candidates. A plurality of poll respondents also said they did not want Villaraigosa to seek the governorship.
Villaraigosa shrugged off questions about the poll, as well as the recent cover of Los Angeles magazine, which branded him a "failure."
"That's what happens when you're mayor, you're the focus of the good times and the bad," Villaraigosa said, smiling. "In a time when the unemployment rate is at 12.5%, a 55% approval isn't so bad. But I recognize that I've got a lot of work to do . . . and I've got to do a better job, even, than the job that we've done over the last four years."
Villaraigosa said he had considered a gubernatorial run because Sacramento politics have become "an abomination" and that, as a former state Assembly speaker who won two mayoral races in a city known for its factious political divides, he believed that he had the ability to put the state back on track.
"I served as a speaker, I was known as a bipartisan leader, I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of what's broken in Sacramento, but I just couldn't get beyond the fact that I love this job and I love this city that I was born and raised in," Villaraigosa, 56, told reporters after his television appearance.
Villaraigosa added that his decision also was influenced by the effect that an unrelenting statewide campaign could have on his teenage daughter.
"I couldn't see myself up and down the state at a time when I have a 16-year-old daughter who is just my pride and joy," he said. "I just didn't want to be campaigning in Northern California while she's getting ready for her prom and taking her finals and filling out applications for college."
Villaraigosa added that his biggest failing and disappointment during his first term was personal: the breakup of his marriage, which occurred after he acknowledged having an extramarital affair with a television newswoman.
"Having said that, I also feel strongly that I have a lot of work to do. I set an ambitious agenda . . . I believe we've accomplished much, but I also acknowledge that these challenges are big and that we've got a lot of work to do to finish the work we've started," he said.
Villaraigosa took heat for breaking a promise to serve a complete four-year term when he ran for City Council in 2003, only to announce his campaign for mayor two years later. During his recent reelection campaign, when speculation bubbled about a possible run for governor in 2010, Villaraigosa was careful not to make a similar vow.
On Monday, Villaraigosa said he couldn't "leave this city in the middle of a crisis," citing the city's ongoing attempt to close a $530-million budget deficit, a 12.5% unemployment rate and a flood of home foreclosures.
He added that he was committed to continuing the aggressive agenda he launched in 2005 to expand the Police Department, turn L.A. into America's greenest big city and start to build a "subway to the sea" that would connect downtown to Westwood.
In the Times Poll, which was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies, voters citywide gave Villaraigosa a lukewarm approval rating. Villaraigosa received a favorable job approval rating from 55% of those surveyed, equivalent to the vote he won in the March election against his little-known rivals, but those surveyed said L.A. needed a new direction.