PEOPLE Interview: Outside The Arena

Back in the private sector, ex-mayoral hopeful Antonio Villaraigosa turns to family, lecture circuit.

Staff Reporter

Ever since Antonio Villaraigosa lost the L.A. mayor's race to James Hahn last fall, pundits have been speculating about which political office he would next seek. After six years in the state Assembly, a little more than two of those as Assembly speaker, he seemed a natural for a run at the state Senate or Congress. But thus far, the 49-year-old former labor negotiator has kept his future plans to himself. Instead, he has settled into private life, working with businessman Ed Roski to develop a biotech park near County-USC Medical Center, working with Yucaipa Cos., a private investment firm established by businessman Ron Burkle, and teaching at UCLA.

Villaraigosa has had some health problems in the last several months, including back surgery that left him a few pounds heavier. But he says he is exercising to trim the weight off his 204-pound, 5-foot-8-inch frame.

Question: What have you been doing since June?

Answer: If you remember on election night, I said I was going to spend a lot more time with my family and make them my priority. And I have done that. Right after the election my son and I went whitewater rafting on the Rogue River in Oregon. I spent more time with my children, all four of them who are 26, 23, 12 and 8. Also I have been speaking all over the country.

Q: What sort of venues?

A: I have been speaking at colleges and universities, to civil rights organizations, environmental organizations, conferences and union events.

Q: What have you been talking about?

A: Topics vary. I've talked about urban issues, the need for more civic participation and a lot of inspirational talks at high schools. I'm going to Harvard (this week). I will be speaking to a number of schools such as the Kennedy School of Government, and other venues at Harvard. I've been in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Austin, Denver, all over the country. I've been speaking more on a national level now than ever before.

Q: You were on the radio recently as the Democratic rebuttal to President Bush's Saturday morning address. Why were you selected?

A: I can't tell you why I was selected. I can only tell you why they said I was selected. My (political) race generated an incredible energy throughout the country, especially among Latinos. The Democratic Party said they felt I was a leading Democrat and a voice for Latinos across the country. This is my second (rebuttal) address, by the way.

Q: What did you think of President Bush's reply, where he said he was disappointed that you accused him of an orchestrated attempt at currying favor with Latino voters by visiting Latin America?

A: Obviously we hit a nerve. According to (Democratic National Committee Chairman) Terry McAuliffe, this address generated more media exposure than any other address in a long time. So he was very happy about the selection.

Q: How has your health been?

A: I've had a few operations. I had an operation after the election to remove a polyp from my vocal chords remember, I was losing my voice. I had an angiogram as well last October. There was some feeling I might need a bypass, but I was OK. Then, two months ago, I was diagnosed as having two tumors in the spinal canal, pressing against the nerves in my lower body. They were benign, but I was out for a couple of months.

Q: How are you feeling now?

A: Great. I was out of commission for a while but now I am exercising every day for an hour and a half at 5 or 5:30 a.m.

Q: What are you doing to make a living?

A: I am teaching at UCLA. I have been teaching in the education department, a class primarily about education policy in California. I'm a Cesar Chavez fellow at UCLA and a visiting professor at USC. I'm not teaching there, but coordinating a series of urban and municipal issue seminars looking at best practices from other cities and how they apply to L.A. I am also with Ed Roski, co-chairing the biomed/biotech park (initiative) around L.A. County/USC, which is a paid position.

I am a principal in a private equity fund, the Yucaipa Corporate Initiatives. During the campaign I talked about using pension funds to invest in corporate initiatives in under-served markets, especially the inner city, and Yucaipa is doing just that. And I am working with Cadiz Inc., doing consulting and strategic planning and thinking through issues.

Q: After several years in politics, how does it feel to be a civilian again?

A: It wasn't until I was 40 years old that I actually ran for office. So most of my adult life has been as a private citizen not a public official, so I am quite comfortable with it. There was a lot of speculation that after the mayor's race I would run for state Senate, or for Congress or for state controller. And there was polling that I could win all three races. I just wasn't interested in it.

Q: Had you had enough of the process?

A: I am not an advocate of term limits but I do see there is an energy that comes from them. I like the fact I have an opportunity to get involved in the private sector and initiatives I feel good about and give back to this community. Part of why I didn't run is that I do have a certain comfort level as a private citizen. It wasn't something I feared.

Q: Will you get back in the political arena?

A: I haven't really thought about when, but I honestly believe at some point I will return to public life. But I am enjoying this for now.

Q: Would you challenge Mayor Hahn again?

A: The next mayor's race is a long ways away. Long enough so that I won't speculate about what I am going to do. I will say this: I am passionate about the city. I very much want to continue to contribute to the betterment of the city and certainly I am open to re-entering public service in the next couple of years. Whether I run for mayor or not is too far away to speculate.

Q: What do you think of Hahn's first months in office?

A: From the moment I knew that I had lost, I've tried to put a positive face on all my comments in respect to Jim Hahn. I think anyone in that position would want to be judged on their whole term. He has been in office less than one year. We will have to see what happens in the next couple of years.

Q: What about how the issue of Bernard Parks' reappointment has been handled?

A: I had said during my campaign that before I could agree to reappoint Chief Parks, I needed to see a commitment to reform. There would have to be support for and compliance with the federal consent decree. Two, there would need to be restoration of the senior lead officer program. Three, full implementation of all the Christopher Commission reforms. Four, support for a compressed work schedule. And lastly, there needed to be an implementation of a discipline system that started at the top and didn't just focus on line officers and had some proportionality to it. I think when you look at those standards, the chief has earned another five years.

Q: What do you think of Magic Johnson's announcement that he may run for mayor in 2004?

A: Any time a private citizen says I want to join the fray and put my hat in the ring, I think it is a good thing.

Q: Look at statewide politics, what will it take for Gray Davis to beat Bill Simon?

A: Knowing Gov. Davis as I do, I know he is not going to approach this election like he has it in the bag. He is going to work hard for every vote. He is going to point to his track record of effectiveness. He will run a hard-charging campaign. But I expect Bill Simon will run a hard campaign too. But in the end I think Gray Davis will be re-elected.

Q: Do you think the $13 billion education bond, if it makes it to the ballot, will be approved by voters?

A: I sponsored the largest school bond in the history of California, $9.2 billion. Even though we passed that bond we were almost $40 billion behind in new facility construction. This is a growing state and in the last two decades we have not invested in modernizing schools. I think you are going to see a lot of support for that initiative.

INTERVIEW: Antonio Villaraigosa

Title: Former State Assembly Speaker
Organization: UCLA, USC, Yucaipa Cos.
Born: Los Angeles, 1953
Education: Bachelor of Arts in history from UCLA, 1977; Juris Doctorate, Peoples College of Law, L.A., 1985
Career Turning Point: Being elected speaker of the California Assembly
Most Admired Person: Abraham Lincoln

Personal: Married, four children and one grandchild

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