Run, Rick, Run — Caruso for Mayor

Deadline nears for developer to decide about challengiing Villaraigosa

The natives are restless all across Los Angeles, angry about everything from soaring taxes to digital billboards going up in their neighborhoods, from densification to the prospect of having to drink recycled toilet water.

Even the heads of two of the city's most important commissions, Planning and Water and Power, have captured the mood of discontent and defied City Hall's insider political culture by pushing populist positions that have them on thin ice with a mayor so self-involved he's lost his touch with the people.

So how come Antonio Villaraigosa is sailing towards re-election and no challenger with money and a track record has stepped forward to challenge him with just three weeks to go before the filing deadline?

The list of potential challengers is long -- Zev Yaroslavsky, Laura Chick, Bob Hertzberg -- but all have shied away as if the mayor were unbeatable which has left speculation focused on billionaire developer Rick Caruso who has a long record of involvement in city affairs from the Department of Water and Power to the Police Commission and the wealth to jump in the race at the last minute and finance his own campaign..

Caruso -- developer of the Grove, Commons at Calabasas, Americana at Brand in Glendale -- is the subject of a lengthy profile in the L.A. Weeklythat portrays him as still wavering about whether or not to run.

“I’m only going to run if I think I can win,” Caruso said.

The experts' book on subject is that Villaraigosa can't be beat because he has nearly $2.5 million already -- 15 times more than his only challenger Walter Moore -- the backing of the unions that he's looked after so generously as well as the contractors, developers and political operatives who feed at the City Hall trough.

What's overlooked is how unpopular Villaraigosa has become out in the neighborhoods where he is the focus of dissatisfaction with city government over a long list of local hot-button issues and the general feeling that the city is headed in the wrong direction.

The mayor is beatable. He ran up a massive budget deficit during an economic boom and by spring will be facing huge cuts in public services to make up a $500 million shortfall He excluded Neighborhood Councils and other community groups from involvement in key decisions. His administration has looked after special interests and stuck the public with a stream of increases in rates, fees and taxes. And it's hard to find anyone even inside City Hall who's gung-ho about Villaraigosa unless they directly benefit.

So here's a little advice to Caruso from the blogosphere: Run, Rick, Run. Come spring when budget crisis comes during the runoff election a guy who knows how to manage money and run an organization is going to look pretty good to a lot of voters.

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