Ending months of speculation, First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner filed papers Thursday to explore a campaign to replace Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, saying he wants to tackle the high unemployment rate and make City Hall more responsive to residents.
Beutner, 51, said he would leave his post within four weeks so that he can raise money and begin talking to voters about a campaign in 2013, when Villaraigosa will be forced out by term limits.
If he runs, Beutner could be in an odd position, marketing himself as a candidate of change even though he spent the last 15 months working for Villaraigosa, who was elected in 2005. Beutner must decide how closely to align himself with his current boss, said political science professor Jaime Regalado, who runs the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs.
"There is a certain amount of fatigue" with Villaraigosa within the electorate, Regalado said. "The question is: Will people see him as joined at the hip with Antonio? That's something he will have to think long and hard about — making a separation while at the same time showing that he has helped [Villaraigosa] to leverage jobs and businesses."
The former investment banker, who earned $1 a year as a deputy to Villaraigosa, also would face a major obstacle in introducing himself to voters when other candidates in the potentially crowded field "need no introduction," Regaladosaid.
City Council President Eric Garcetti, developer Rick Caruso, state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky are weighing a run. City Controller Wendy Greuel, Councilwoman Jan Perry and radio personality Kevin James have already formed fundraising committees.
Beutner, who is a non-partisan voter, said Thursday that he had shown over his tenure that he has the ability to transform the culture of City Hall from within, by courting new businesses and revamping economic policies.
"My voters are the Angelenos who want to see people have good-paying jobs in our city, who want to see change, who want to see the city do a better job of providing good services," he said.
A resident of Pacific Palisades, Beutner has already hired two veteran Villaraigosa consultants — former Deputy Mayor Sean Clegg and political consultant and opposition researcher Ace Smith — as well as the firm of former top Obama advisor Anita Dunn and Bill Knapp, an advisor to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
He also regularly receives unpaid advice from his friend, former Chief Deputy Mayor Jay Carson, who now works for Bloomberg Philanthropies. Beutner, who co-founded the boutique investment and advisory firm Evercore Partners, is believed to have the personal wealth to finance a campaign. But he has said he would raise money to test the support for his ideas.
While overseeing 13 city departments, Beutner charged his staff with making five cold calls to local businesses each week and helped press for a three-year business-tax holiday for firms that move to Los Angeles. Under Beutner, the mayor's team has announced some recent successes, including the opening of a Google outpost in Venice; the relocation of Gensler, an architecture and design firm; and a BMW dealership — the first to come to L.A. in 25 years, according to Villaraigosa.
Despite those efforts, the city's unemployment rate stood at 13.5% in February.
Beutner managed to stay above the fray for much of his tenure, avoiding political confrontations and, in some cases, members of the mayor's own staff. He has not masked his disdain for council members, who, in turn, have privately questioned how much he accomplished on his own.
Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, credited Beutner with attracting BYD, a Chinese electric carmaker, and easing the way for a reconstruction of the Wilshire Grand Hotel. He also praised Beutner's work on rewriting state environmental regulations that would prove costly to the Department of Water and Power — and potentially lead to higher rates.
"Austin has done a very good job of trying to steer the Titanic away from the icebergs," he said.