I don’t know if Antonio Villaraigosa is a liar, or even a crook — though I’ve got my suspicions about some of his cronies.
But I do know he has a hard time taking responsibility for his actions, living up to his promises and facing the truth head-on.
That’s why I put up his 2009 State of the City speech and highlighted the phrases that leap off the page to me, phrases that show he deflected all responsibility for the city’s financial condition, pandered politically to segments of the population and quoted a Japanese proverb (Adversity is the foundation of virtue) as if to give moral weight to his commitment to fix what he had broken.
He might better have had his speechwriter dig out the Zen koan: If you do the right thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason, what if you die?
The right reason that the mayor outlined was his committment to take the drastic steps needed skillfully scale the city work force and spending down to a level in line with falling revenue.
The heart of his plan to deal with the fiscal crisis was that he was not going to “take a meat cleaver to essential services — threatening
meals for the poor, housing for the homeless, libraries for our
students, job assistance for the unemployed and police patrols in our
Instead, he was going to surgically remove the “deadwood” as he told Times editors days later.
Of course, that isn’t what he — or the City Council — did.
He took a shotgun to the city work force and blew it to pieces with a sweetened retirement package that is getting rid of the talented and invaluable senior staff along with whatever “deadwood” has volunteered for it.
Huge gaps in managerial skill and experience are left in every department. There was nothing targeted about the ERIP, nothing strategic. It was open to just about anyone who wanted so a lot of the people who grabbed it could afford to retire with five extra years of service credit and $15,000 in cash to buy more.
Why would any capable person stay aboard a sinking ship if they didn’t have to?
And now he’s taking the mess he made of city government and grinding it into mush with 1,000 layoffs that will only buy a few months before the city can no longer pay its bills, time enough to sell off airports, golf courses, parking structures and meters, the zoo and Convention Center and buy a little more before the city has to file for bankruptcy.
By then there will be nothing much of value left to sell, except maybe the DWP, LAX, the parks and vast open spaces like Chatsworth Reservoir.
Nine months after his State of the City speech, what he has done to make matters so much
worse, turned a crisis into a catastrophe.
He didn’t do
what he said he was going to do. He hasn’t even had the courage to speak to the public about the budget catastrophe in all that time, preferring to flit from photo op to photo op boosting achievements in small things while the city falls apart and dreams of a better tomorrow turn into a nightmarish vision of a city without hope.
There was nothing mysterious about the city’s worsening financial condition. Year after year, city bureaucrats warned of the deepening deficit.
As Walter Moore noted during his campaign for mayor, the City Administrative warned at least five times from 2005 to 2007 that the city was running more than $200 million in the red and needed to act prudently.
Instead of dealing with the problem, the mayor kept on hiring and hiring thousands of more city workers, kept on raisiing fees, taxes and rates and then spending more, most of it on poverty programs instead of basic services and infrastructure, kept on cutting sweetheart deals with unions, developers and contractors.
And now he wants to gut the Parks, Library, Planning, Neighborhood Empowerment, Building and Safety and other departments that do provide services citywide.
Even worse, he and the Council want to slam these cuts through without allowing any time for analysis or public debate.
They are seven months into this fiscal year and still have a $200 million deficit. They borrowed more than $1 billion to be able to pay their bills and don’t have enough cash to pay the bills, in no small part because only a few hundred of the ERIP volunteers have actually left their jobs and will still be in them for many months more.
Today, they are raiding dozens of special funds of millions of dollars because they are out of cash. Next week, they will start ordering layoffs without regard to the functioning of departments, layoffs of the youngest workers, just like the ERIP got rid of the oldest.
Nothing they have done or are doing has anything to do with running the city for the benefit of the public. They are chasing the numbers of falling revenue downhill without a plan.
City unions are in an uproar after having been dragged to the bargaining table with a gun at their heads three times in less than a year. Their own positive ideas for reducing spending have been largely ignored, their members are as furious at their leadership as they are at city officials.
The activist community has awakened and begun to mobilize into a force to be reckoned with.
Council members, few with any experience beyond serving in government staff jobs before being elected to positions as the nation’s highest paid city elected officials, see the danger to themselves and are looking for whatever deceit and subterfuge will protect them from the wrath of the people.
They will do anything except face the truth and find the courage to lead the city out of the darkness.
There is no light at the end of this tunnel.
The only hope is that a new civic culture will arise out of the ashes of City Hall’s failure.
Somehow the unions must come to realize the commitments from city officials are worthless. Business leaders must see the city can’t deliver on promises to create thousands of jobs and revive the economy. And ordinary citizens must look beyond their grievances and their anger and seize the moment to find common ground with each other and with these other interests that are more powerful and better organized.
Worst of all, he has betrayed himself — and for that there is no redemption.