Antonio Villaraigosa

Then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa greets customers at Pink’s Hot Dogs as part of a farewell tour before leaving office in 2013. His next move could be to run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2016. That would require him to defeat Attorney General Kamala Harris, an ally in previous campaigns. (Nick Ut/Associated Press-file)

By Christopher Cadelago
ccadelago@sacbee.com
01/17/2015 11:12 PM

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa planned to use the year to, as he put it recently, continue on a journey of reflection.

The meditative journey would likely include real trips to far-flung locales as part of his regular speaking circuit. He’d continue working as a well-paid consultant. He’d do that, perhaps, until he prepared to run for California governor in 2018.

Then U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced earlier this month that she would not run for another term.

Villaraigosa, who left office in 2013, started making phone calls. He told close associates that he called his friend and the state’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, and didn’t receive a return call. He told them that he called his longtime political consultant, Averell “Ace” Smith, and said he didn’t get a callback.

Two days after Boxer’s announcement, Villaraigosa issued a statement that he would “seriously consider looking at running.”

Harris aides publicly confirmed Monday night that she would run, and she formally launched her campaign on Tuesday. Since, Villaraigosa has been telling friends that he’s grown more resolute about mounting a challenge that key players in the Democratic Party didn’t consider him for. He relishes a possible role as an underdog, as he was in his City Council race and first two races for mayor, they said.

Former Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes, a close ally of Villaraigosa from his time as Assembly speaker, said she’s met with Democrats in the Central Valley since Harris began her campaign and asked that they withhold their support until Villaraigosa comes to a resolution. She added he may need hard data like polling before formally launching a campaign.

“Antonio will make the very best decision. If he gets in, it will be because he knows he can win the race,” Reyes said.

“You have to do a lot of pre-work, and I think that’s what he’s going through. He’s being very strategic and very methodical. He wants to get in it to win it. He’s seeing if the money is there, the support is there.”

If he runs, Villaraigosa could become the state’s first Latino senator as well as carry the mantle for Southern California.

Though Los Angeles Democrats have held influential positions in the Legislature, much of the party’s power base has remained in the north. Feinstein and Boxer, elected in 1992, are originally from the Bay Area.

Asked by a KABC-LA anchor on Sunday who he thought should challenge for the Boxer seat, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he sees “a wealth of great people.” He added: “I hope somebody from Los Angeles does run.”

It wouldn’t be the first opportunity for higher office that Villaraigosa let go by.

In 2009, with Los Angeles facing a $530 million budget deficit, Villaraigosa withdrew himself from the following year’s gubernatorial race. The city had given him so much, he told a cable TV audience. He didn’t want to walk away.

After leaving City Hall, he went into consulting and academia, and plotted a return to public office.

Villaraigosa has other options this time as well. His close ties with the Clintons could earn him a Cabinet position should Hillary Clinton win the presidency.

Among Villaraigosa’s considerations is whether he can raise enough money. Also weighing a bid are the billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, state Treasurer John Chiang, Democratic Reps. Loretta Sanchez and Xavier Becerra, and several of their congressional colleagues. Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez and two former state GOP chairman are showing interest.

Harris is off to a head start. On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a voice for the party’s liberal wing, urged her supporters to help Harris immediately raise $25,000. Friday, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York emailed supporters with a $35,000 goal by midnight. EMILY’s List, an influential group that backs pro-choice Democratic women, emailed its members about her candidacy.

Harris lives part time in Los Angeles and in her fall re-election campaign ran TV ads in the area to increase her profile.

Villaraigosa has experience raising money in small increments and cultivated ties with donors in Hollywood and the Bay Area.

Nationally, he was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He chaired the the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in 2012, raising money for the convention. In 2008, he was a national co-chairman for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president.

To read entire story, click here.