Capitol Alert

Antonio Villaraigosa reacts to his own video of Skid Row: ‘My God’

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks before the Sacramento Press Club in Sacramento, Calif. before leaving office in 2013.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks before the Sacramento Press Club in Sacramento, Calif. before leaving office in 2013. The Associated Press

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was driving through skid row on Christmas, passing rows of tents in his Chevrolet Volt, when he said he impulsively pulled out his cellphone and began shooting video of the impoverished area.

As Frank Sinatra’s version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” played in the background, with the line about “a most lovely lavender tie,” Villarigosa lamented the persistent poverty he saw “in the richest country in the world. In a city known for its wealth.”

“You know we can do better than this. We really can,” Villaraigosa said in the video, which he posted on YouTube under the headline “Joy and Desperation on Christmas Day.”

“So many people are hungry, looking for shelter. ... Tents everywhere. My God. Why can’t we do more for each other?”

If he sounded like a future candidate, perhaps for governor, describing his motivation, that assuredly wasn’t the purpose, Villaraigosa said by phone Thursday.

For years he’s visited missions with his children around the holidays, he said. On Christmas Day, Villaraigosa said he was alone, walking back to his car after distributing toys when he was struck by the sheer number of tents. While driving, he narrated the video to send to his children and close friends. He only had the video posted online, he said, after his eldest daughter, Marisela, suggested he share it on Twitter.

“This was for my kids and my family,” Villaraigosa said.

The former Los Angeles mayor chronicles street life from his car on Christmas. He says it was originally for his kids, and not for political purposes. Video courtesy of Antonio Villaraigosa.

While Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is actively campaigning for the 2018 contest, along with a trio of ballot measures, and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, a possible gubernatorial candidate, is backing a cigarette tax and leading a commission focused on income inequality, Villarigosa stressed he’s been anything but omnipresent.

“Other than my ‘listening tour,’ (of the Central Valley) I’ve been invisible, let’s be honest,” he said.

Still, he’s popped up at events and hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at his Hollywood Hills home. Villaraigosa said he’s long been concerned about poverty, and a few minutes into the brief conversation Thursday he was citing statistics from memory.

California has 77 of the top 300 highest-poverty metropolitan areas, Villarigosa said, and the Central Valley has three of the top five.

“It’s a great country we live in, but we got too much poverty,” he said. “We’re not doing enough about it. We (have) got to invest in people again.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago