California political leaders and news media are ramping up their calls for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to become Transportation Secretary.
One of the state’s two U.S. Senators, Barbara Boxer, has even taken the unusual step of urging Villaraigosa to openly declare his interest in the position that Ray LaHood announced last week he is leaving.
In Los Angeles, city leaders have gone so far as to check the City Charter for how Antonio Villaraigosa’s second and last mayoral term which expires in the middle of the year will be filled.
According to Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs, the Council President would immediately take over as acting mayor. But that doesn’t preclude the council from making an appointment later on.
Meanwhile, the local news media, which has not been too kind to Villaraigosa since he fell out of favor, has been examining the mayor’s transportation record and reporting a positive review.
Villaraigosa administration the golden age of transit
“The Villaraigosa administration has been a golden age of transit,” says Joe Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
All this as Boxer told Politico:
“I talked to him last night because I wanted to encourage him to pursue this. So I hope he is. People need to know you’re interested or you’re not going to be in the mix.”
The Villaraigosa push comes as the second administration’s Cabinet shapes up as one with no Hispanics after the departures of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, while Latino groups call on President Obama to not forget to include them in his Cabinet.
Newton is also among Antonio Villaraigosa’s big cheerleaders, arguing that many in Washington see the mayor as less partisan than the image he has in Los Angeles.
“In Washington, his reputation is that of someone who can reach across the aisle,” Newton told KPCC radio. “[He] can work with John Mica, who’s considered by some to be a Tea Party Republican, as well as Senator [Barbara] Boxer.”
David Cooper of the Washington D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute agrees and says Villaraigosa has been a trailblazer.
“I think that Mayor Villaraigosa’s vision for improving transit in L.A. has changed the way that a lot of mayors are looking at this,” says Cooper. “And I think that these types of public investments are exactly the sorts of things that need to be done on a larger scale throughout the country.”
Newton also says Villaraigosa joining the Obama Cabinet would also be good for Los Angeles, which likely would get more federal funds as a result.
“Usually, there is a hometown bump if you have a secretary that’s from your hometown,” Newton says.