Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Doug Sovern, KCBS Radio

Fueled By Outside Money, Villaraigosa Charges Hard In Governor's Race

Former LA Mayor Vying For Spot In Top Two

Doug Sovern
May 25, 2018 - 12:15 am

Charter school advocates and tech millionaires are spending big in the closing days of the California governor's race, to try to propel Antonio Villaraigosa to one of the top two spots in the June 5 primary.

When Villaraigosa, now 65, was a two-term Mayor of Los Angeles, and before that, Speaker of the State Assembly, he was seen as a rising star Democrat and potential future governor. Now that he's actually running for the state's top office, it's taking millions of dollars in independent expenditures to keep his campaign afloat. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has given a whopping seven million dollars to a committee created by charter school supporters to back Villaraigosa's bid. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and developer Eli Broad have each chipped in $2.5 million. San Francisco hedge fund manager William Oberndorf, a staunch supporter of school choice, has contributed two million bucks.

But Villaraigosa tells KCBS Radio he won't owe them a thing, if he's elected governor.

"There's no correlation between what someone gives you and what positions you take," he says. "I support traditional public schools, I support teachers' unions, and I also support public charters that are excelling."

Villaraigosa won the backing of the school choice crowd when, as mayor, he took over some of LA's failing public schools and converted them to successful charter schools. "I had to put the interests of kids first," he tells KCBS Radio. "When your interests meet the public's interest, I'm all for it. When they don't, I understand why you're for it, but you can't expect me to be."

Villaraigosa says those "tough calls" he made as mayor show he has the independence and backbone to make a good governor. "I've been focused on fighting for working people and working families my entire life," says the former labor organizer-turned-politician. "The next governor has got to be focused like a laser beam on growing an economy that works for more people." Which is why, he says, he wants to improve the schools, from preschool through college, build more affordable housing, and close the state's widening wealth equality gap. "We're in many ways two Californias, a rich one and a poor one. The key to growing those middle class jobs is educating more of our workforce."

Villaraigosa's positions on the major issues of the campaign don't differ much from those of the other top Democrats. But he's won the backing of not just progressive Democrats like former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, but of moderate Republicans, including the GOP's 2010 gubernatorial nominee, Meg Whitman, and former Silicon Valley Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell. That's because, he says, "I've always been a practical progressive. People want us to work together. They're tired of the screaming, the polarization. I'm proud to have the support of (Whitman) and a broad cross-section" of California leaders. He hopes that support, along with the more than $17 million raised so far by that independent committee, helps him squeeze past Republicans John Cox and Travis Allen for the second spot in the June primary.

You can hear our entire interview with Antonio Villaraigosa above, or listen to the segment that's airing on the radio, below.