Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Friday tapped a close friend and advisor to likely mayoral candidate Austin Beutner as the newest executive to lead his administration.
Gaye Williams, 54, of Manhattan Beach, will fill the post July 25, replacing chief of staff Jeff Carr, who abruptly announced his departure on Wednesday.
The hiring creates an unusual dynamic in the run-up to the March 2013 mayoral election. Williams, a Republican, was a $120,000-a-year aide to Beutner when he was Villaraigosa's "jobs czar." Since resigning in May, she has been volunteering with Beutner's exploratory campaign providing strategic advice.
The two top Villaraigosa deputies who will report directly to Williams are Matt Szabo and Janelle Erickson, both of whom have ties to City Controller Wendy Greuel, another likely 2013 mayoral contender.
Erickson and Szabo worked for Greuel when she was on the City Council. Erickson could not be reached for comment. Szabo said he plans to keep working for Villaraigosa, not any mayoral campaign.
Villaraigosa praised Williams' lengthy resume, which includes stints with Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, Mayor Richard Riordan and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo. Beutner, for his part, called Williams "gifted" and "an ideal choice."
But John Shallman, a political consultant to Greuel, questioned whether Williams' hiring is designed to give Beutner "a chance to run as an incumbent." "This is his opportunity to maintain his foothold in the mayor's office," he added.
Sean Clegg, a Villaraigosa speechwriter who is also retained by Beutner, refused to respond directly, saying instead that Williams will "blend right in with the team." "She has enormous credibility inside and outside of City Hall," he added.
Williams' hiring comes at a critical time for Villaraigosa, who has less than two years left in his term. He is looking to make his mark on public transportation by getting more money for rail projects, and on education by putting charter schools and other organizations in charge of local campuses.
His second term has been marked by frequent executive turnover. Carr spent 22 months as chief of staff while Chief Deputy Mayor Jay Carson left after one year. Beutner stayed 15 months while two of his top deputies were in their jobs just 11 months.
At the same time, City Hall has been jolted by a series of investigations. The FBI has a probe into the Department of Building and Safety, where two inspectors have pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, and is investigating allegations of overbilling by a real estate developer at the housing department.
The mayor has also scrambled to address problems at the Department of Transportation, sending his top transit aide to run that agency. And the animal services department is trying to determine whether employees stole dogs from shelters and sold them for a profit.