Capitol Alert

He’s in: Antonio Villaraigosa formally running for California governor

Antonio Villaraigosa speaks about a run for California governor

The former Los Angeles mayor talks timing about his possible run for governor on Nov. 1, 2016.
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The former Los Angeles mayor talks timing about his possible run for governor on Nov. 1, 2016.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who mused that he would love to be governor and then spent more than a year devising a return, formally announced his candidacy for the office Thursday, pledging to rebuild the middle class by investing in schools, repairing infrastructure and drawing a sharp contrast with Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

Villaraigosa made his decision known two days after the election of Trump, though he said it didn’t affect his timing. He plans to hold a campaign launch event early next year. “I have always believed that the strength I bring to this candidacy is that I am a uniter,” Villaraigosa said in an interview.

“We need to unite. Elections have consequences, and he won. We need to work with him where we can,” he added. “But we also need to fight for our values and stand up for them. California is charting a different path. We want to build bridges, not walls. We believe that diversity is our strength. We welcome our newcomers. That’s what my candidacy in many ways represents.”

Villaraigosa’s entry into the 2018 race that includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Treasurer John Chiang allows Villaraigosa to begin raising money for what is expected to be an expensive and wide-open contest to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown. The dynamic is far from settled, as former state schools chief Delaine Eastin has said she’s running and expects to open a committee in January. Other potential aspirants, including billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, a Democrat, and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, are weighing their futures.

Two years ago, Villaraigosa, 63, declined to challenge for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a prize that Attorney General Kamala Harris won handily Tuesday. But he increased his activity over the last year, forming the Building Bridges, Not Walls super PAC to oppose Trump and speaking from the main stage this summer at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The former mayor has sought to stay visible in California though a number of efforts, appearing in TV ads and slate mailers to Latino voters and lending his support to the successful $9 billion school facilities bond, recreational marijuana legalization measure and a failed ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty. In the interview, Villaraigosa said he wants to address poverty and income inequality, noting his 50-day listening tour of central regions of the state.

He is a strong supporter of the high-speed rail system, but said that before the state moves forward with a Delta water tunnels project, it should focus on water recycling, cleaning up aquifers and underground storage, and looking out for the interests of farmers.

Early public polling on the race has shown geographic strongholds for Villaraigosa in Southern California, as well as among Latino voters, while Newsom fares well in Northern California. Several other names have been floated for consideration, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, ex-state Controller Steve Westly and outgoing Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

Villaraigosa’s timing is largely owed to his need to raise campaign contributions. Newsom had $6.4 million on hand, plus another $2.2 million in his lieutenant governor’s committee, as of June 30. Chiang had raised a total of $5.4 million between his gubernatorial and treasurer’s committees.

Opponents are likely to scour Villaraigosa’s consulting clients, including for the controversial supplement company Herbalife, for potential work that clashes with his stated views and the beliefs of constituencies. Villaraigosa said he was proud of his work with Herbalife as well as Banc of California. He said Herbalife promotes health and nutrition, particularly in communities with high obesity and diabetes rates.

“And also promoting entrepreneurship and small business,” he said. He called the bank “the gold standard for community reinvestment.”

This is not his first look at governor. Villaraigosa withdrew himself from the 2010 race as his city faced a $530 million budget deficit. While he cited his loyalty to voters and the city as reasons not to walk away, he was hampered by a weakening economy and an affair with a Spanish-language TV anchor that ended his marriage. He was married again this fall to Patricia Govea, who was born in Mexico and came to the United States in 2004.

After losing his first race for Los Angeles mayor, Villaraigosa unseated an incumbent to win a seat on the City Council. He stormed back to became the city’s first Latino mayor since 1872, and famously appeared on the cover of Newsweek.

He touted his record over the two terms, saying violent crime and homicides fell by nearly 50 percent, the number of successful schools doubled and graduation rates improved, more light rail was built than under any other mayor, and air quality improved.

“What I am proudest of is that I wasn’t the Latino mayor in people’s eyes anymore. I was everybody’s mayor,” he said. “I was the black mayor, the white mayor, the Latino mayor, the Muslim mayor, the Christian mayor, the Jewish mayor. I was the Valley’s mayor, Watts, the Eastside and the Westside’s mayor. And I think right now we need leaders that are going to bring us together and unite us.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago