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L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to chair Democratic convention

In his new role, Villaraigosa will wield the gavel at the Democratic National Convention and raise money to help pay for the gathering in Charlotte, N.C., giving him contact with donors who could play a role in a future run for office.

February 15, 2012|By Mark Z. Barabak and John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been selected chairman of this summer's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been selected chairman of this… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been selected chairman of this summer's Democratic National Convention, elevating his role as a campaign surrogate and raising his national profile as he weighs his political future.

A formal announcement was scheduled Wednesday in Washington, and the mayor plans to join President Obama in Holmby Hills at a Wednesday night fundraiser for Obama's reelection effort.

"I've always planned to campaign" for the president, Villaraigosa said in an interview, and he readily accepted when Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, called last week to offer him the convention post.

As chairman, Villaraigosa will wield the gavel during the gathering in Charlotte, N.C., which opens with a festival on Sept. 3 and continues for three days of official business. In addition, Villaraigosa will serve as a convention spokesman, starting with a Web video the party plans to release on Wednesday in English and Spanish.

The mayor, who has little more than a year left in his second and final term, will also raise money to help pay for the convention -- reaching out to donors who could serve him in a future run for office.

Villaraigosa, one of the nation's most prominent elected Latino officials, said he expected to play a role in the campaign's outreach to Latino voters. The White House is counting on strong Latino turnout, especially in battleground states such as Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida. But the mayor said he planned to speak "to a broad cross section of people, not just to Latinos."

In 2007, Villaraigosa backed Hillary Rodham Clinton in her presidential bid, serving as a national campaign chairman and stumping for the then-New York senator in several states. But he quickly swung his support behind Obama after the primary season ended, appearing on national television to endorse the ultimate nominee and making several campaign stops on his behalf.

Since then, Villaraigosa has been frequent defender of the president, using his stature as mayor of the nation's second-largest city and head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to promote Obama's agenda. On Monday, Villaraigosa hailed Obama's budget proposal for its investment in infrastructure and job training.

"The president has come through for our nation's cities," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "Now it's Congress' turn: The House and Senate should put politics aside and pass the president's budget."

Villaraigosa has said little publicly about what his political ambitions might be once his term ends in June 2013. Speaking last month at USC, he told students: "I'm operating right now like I'm at the end of the road and I'm riding off into the sunset."

He said he intended to write and give speeches after leaving office, calling it "a timeout."

Privately, however, Villaraigosa has expressed interest in running for governor and has fueled speculation he might even challenge Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat, should Brown seek reelection in 2014.

On Tuesday, however, Villaraigosa declined to engage in speculation about the future. "I love my job, and I'm only focused on my job right now," he said.

mark.barabak@latimes.com

john.hoeffel@latimes.com

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