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Herb Wesson, mayor of Los Angeles

May 02, 2012|By Robert Greene
  • City Council President Herb Wesson Jr., pictured here in 2011, would become acting mayor if Antonio Villaraigosa leaves the job before his term expires June 30, 2013.
City Council President Herb Wesson Jr., pictured here in 2011, would become… (Los Angeles Times )

This is a corrected version of the original post; see the note below.

Mayor Herb Wesson? It could happen, and soon – at least in theory. Here’s the scenario.

It begins with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa leaving office early, a prospect that was reported in a February column by Daily News reporter and columnist Rick Orlov. Given Villaraigosa’s central role in the Democratic convention beginning Sept. 3 in Charlotte, Orlov wrote, it stands to reason that the mayor would be rumored to be angling for a post in the Obama cabinet should the president win a second term. Orlov also noted that the mayor has repeatedly vowed to stay in office until his term is up, on June 30, 2013.

But chatter is chatter, and it has been refined over the weeks so that the current cyber-speculation is that Villaraigosa is going to be U.S. secretary of Transportation. What if he’s offered the post sometime after Obama (if he wins) takes a second oath but before the mayoral term is up that June? Who is mayor then?

At that very instant, under section 243 of the city charter, the City Council president becomes the acting mayor, and today that person is Wesson. Like Villaraigosa, Wesson is a former Assembly speaker. He already has mayoral powers in the event of an emergency when Villaraigosa is out of state (and by the way, Villaraigosa is out of state a great deal; city union leaders are complaining about it).

But this situation would be different. Wesson would be – well, what should we call it? – quasi-permanent-acting mayor – for all practical purposes, mayor – until the City Council sets and someone wins an interim election, or until the council appoints someone to be the actual, not just the acting, mayor. Pull out your city charter (you have one, right?) and check section 409.

There won’t be any interim election, because the real thing is happening right away, on March 5, 2013. So in those intervening weeks, would the council leave things to Acting Mayor Wesson, or would it appoint someone else? If the council wanted to give a boost to one of the declared mayoral candidates in the days before the election, it could appoint Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry or Wendy Greuel, although whichever of them it would be would have to give up his or her current office. It could appoint Kevin James or Austin Beutner. Or someone else. But it’s hard to imagine a council led by Wesson appointing someone not of Wesson’s choosing.

If the vacancy doesn’t occur until after the regular mayoral election, it’s a good bet the council would appoint whomever the victor is to fill the remainder of Villaraigosa’s term before starting his or her own.

As acting mayor, Wesson would retain his position as a councilman. As appointed mayor, he’d have to give it up, and he’d keep it only until the newly elected mayor takes office July 1, and then he’d be without a job. So it’s hard to imagine Wesson wanting the appointment for himself when he could be acting mayor and still keep his council post.

Of course, all this is important only if Villaraigosa leaves office early to do something else, and he has said he won’t. And unless I’m forgetting something, he hasn’t left office early before to go do something else, especially after promising he wouldn’t. So never mind.

Hey, what if Carmen Trutanich is elected district attorney this year, before his term as city attorney has expired? Who becomes city attorney then?

Wait for the next post.

[For the Record, added 4:40 p.m., May 2, 2012: The original post said the Democratic National Convention begins Sept. 6. That's when it ends; it begins Sept. 3. And the caption said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's term ends June 30, 2012; it ends June 30, 2013. So everyone, please unpack.]

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