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Antonio Villaraigosa's chief of staff says he will step down

The resignation of Jeff Carr, who has been the L.A. mayor's top advisor since September 2009, creates new upheaval in an office buffeted by a string of departures.

July 07, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Jeff Carr has been Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's right-hand man at L.A. City Hall since September 2009. But Carr, the mayor's chief of staff, says he will leave later this summer and does not have a job lined up. A spokeswoman for Villaraigosa said no replacement has been selected.
Jeff Carr has been Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's right-hand man at… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's top advisor announced Wednesday that he is resigning from his post, a surprise move that created new upheaval in an office buffeted by a string of departures during the mayor's second term.

Jeff Carr, who has been chief of staff since September 2009, said he did not have a job lined up and a Villaraigosa spokeswoman said no replacement has been selected. He will leave later this summer.

The announcement comes three months after the departure of First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, who left after 15 months to explore a bid for mayor. And it occurs 10 months after the resignation of Chief Deputy Mayor Jay Carson, who quit in September and was said to be at odds with Carr over key issues.

Villaraigosa supporters offered differing accounts as to whether Carr had been encouraged to leave. Carr himself denied receiving any pressure. But others in the mayor's orbit said Villaraigosa, who will be forced out by term limits in June 2013, wanted a change in management that would allow him to complete key goals.

"The mayor's got two years left. He's got a lot of stuff he wants to do," said one source close to the mayor who would only comment if not identified because Villaraigosa did not grant permission to speak. "It just felt like there's enough time left to get the house in working order better, to finish strong."

With time running out, Villaraigosa has been trying to bring the city's battered budget into balance while securing federal funds for his long-promised subway to Westwood. At the same time, his schedule has been increasingly dominated by out-of-town appearances and bookings on national news shows.

Carr, 47, was hired with much fanfare two years ago, with supporters of Villaraigosa promising that a reshuffling of the executive ranks would make the office more effective. Those changes came after months of criticism that the mayor lacked focus and follow-through on programs ranging from tree-plantings to a prescription drug program — and a weaker-than-expected reelection victory.

Instead, Carr's hiring was followed by more instability.

When he was named chief of staff, Carr was supposed to be part of a two-man management team featuring himself and Jay Carson, a former aide to the presidential campaign of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton who was given the title chief deputy mayor.

Carson and Carr disagreed on such matters as budget cuts and strategies for implementing electricity rate hikes at the Department of Water and Power.

Carson left within a year.

Five months after Carr and Carson were named, Villaraigosa attempted another reboot of his administration, hiring Beutner, a former investment banker, as his "jobs czar." Two of Beutner's top deputies left after 11 months and Beutner himself resigned in April.

Carr, who lives in Glassell Park, downplayed the notion that there had been instability in the Villaraigosa circle, noting that he himself had been deputy mayor for two years before being elevated to the No. 1 spot.

"There are always transitions in any administration. People come and go, in and out of government," he said. "Some of that's good."

Carr's rise in the mayor's office had been rapid. An ordained minister with experience directing youth programs for low-income children, he was tapped in 2007 to become the mayor's "gang czar," working to revamp programs in neighborhoods hardest hit by crime.

In his newest job, Carr worked with scores of mayoral staffers and various department heads. Reviews of that work have been mixed.

Supporters said he deftly handled issues surrounding public safety, particularly the overhaul and subsequent expansion of the city's anti-gang programs. Villaraigosa said in a statement that he was "incredibly grateful" to Carr for his work on the youth recreation program known as Summer Night Lights, which kept key parks open beyond sundown.

But critics questioned whether Carr was in over his head, saying he lacked the management skills to tame a bureaucracy reeling from service cuts and the departure of thousands of City Hall employees.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said Carr "did his best" in a city suffering from a bruising recession, a string of budget shortfalls and a badly decaying infrastructure, particularly streets and highways.

"The chief of staff is supposed to keep the trains running on time. And I don't believe there's anyone in the city who would say the trains in L.A. are running on time," he said.

Discord over Carr's leadership also could be found within the mayor's office.

One person familiar with Carr's departure said members of Villaraigosa's staff went to Carr last week to express concerns about his management style. That person also would not speak if identified, saying the mayor had not given authorization to discuss the staffing changes.

Carr said there was no such confrontation. But he agreed that there had been "vigorous" debates and opposing views within the mayor's office.

"I would call that a healthy administration," he said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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