What’s Next for Kevin de León?

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

While there were a couple of rough spots, like when he criticized Dianne Feinstein’s handling of the Kavanaugh accusations, most observers judge State Senator Kevin de León’s performance in the U.S. Senate campaign positively. He didn’t have much money or opportunity for free media via debates, but right now has 4,860,859 (45.7%) votes, nearly 300,000 more than were cast for GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox.

On Friday night at midnight, the high profile legislator is out of a job. But, anybody who knows him knows that he is not out of politics. Instead, the ill-fortunes of Los Angeles city councilman José Huizar may have opened the door for de León’s next step. Huizar represents downtown, Boyle Heights, Highland Park and environs and is termed out in 2020. José’s plan had been that his successor would be his wife, Richelle Rios. However, the FBI recently raided two of Huizar’s offices and the couple’s home. While the specifics of the investigation are not disclosed, they appear to center around campaign finance. Huizar has been stripped of his city council committee assignments, and recently missed several meetings.

Rios has dropped her bid for the 2020 City Council race and de León appears to now have his eye on it. de León lives in Gil Cedillo’s council district 1 and has another term left, so a de León bid would require him to establish a new residence, although that is now easier to do under the bill passed and signed by Governor Brown this year.

But, would city council sate the appetite of de León after serving as President Pro Tem of the State Senate and a statewide candidate who garnered significant grass roots support and is in the top tier of California Latino politicians? Likely not.

In 2022, Eric Garcetti is term-limited as mayor of the City of Angels, and the seat is wide open. Councilmember and former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson would like it, but many believe his better bet is for Mark Ridley-Thomas’s seat on the county Board of Supervisors that same year, a safer political bet for what is seen as a top office. With MRT’s son Sebastian’s departure from the Assembly on health and other grounds, it is unlikely the seat will stay in the family.

And, that leaves the opening for a strong candidacy of KDL for mayor in 2022. There are lots of local political leaders who would like to see the city’s first female mayor, particularly after the 2013 loss by Greuel. However, the council is 13 men and two women. The city attorney and controller are both men. The biggest possibility would be Supervisor Janice Hahn, for whom 2022 would be a free ride. However, she likely would win easy re-election in 2024 for a final term on the board. She will be 72 in 2024 and may be looking for a final election after 23 years in politics at that point.

I never like talking about age and an 80-year-old was just elected to the Board of Equalization, but mayor of Los Angeles is a pretty exhausting job. I know I’d be content with a safe seat on the county board at that point.

Being mayor of Los Angeles has its risk and rewards. The role immediately lands the officeholder on the list of the nation’s major political figures, as Garcetti is experiencing now. Garcetti was not necessarily a political star when he was elected in 2013, narrowly winning a runoff against then city controller Wendy Greuel.

However, the cost can be big if the timing is wrong, as Antonio Villaraigosa experienced. Villaraigosa’s mayoral reign occurred during the deep recession leading to large budget cuts that hit city employees. Villaraigosa, who had been a darling of labor with a background as an organizer for United Teachers Los Angeles, suddenly found backs turned to him. That was amplified by his embrace of charter schools as a possible solution to the city’s most ailing schools.

Despite big spending by supporters of charter schools Villaraigosa ended up placing third in the 2018 gubernatorial primary and has now joined the lobbying/public affairs powerhouse Mercury.

The question for de León is whether the good economic times will continue through the decade of 2020. Garcetti has been lucky and Villaraigosa wasn’t. Both have had good and bad steps, but the overall political approval of a reign has a strong correlation with the economy. A recession could hit and be gone by 2022 or the current economic environment could continue and a downturn could be after that. Anyone who says they know for certain is a liar.

Obviously, the chatter about Garcetti is about a potential bid for President. He makes an intriguing candidate as the city’s first Jewish mayor and as a Mexican-American. However, while he is an attractive draw right now when he shows up in early caucus and primary states, the starting gates are full with promising ponies. He doesn’t really have anything to lose in a respectable run. After all, look at California’s outgoing governor.

Whether or not he decides on a winter in New Hampshire and Iowa, Garcetti’s more likely play is a run for governor in 2026, a mayor-to-governor play a la Carcetti. Los Angeles still stings from the losses by Tom Bradley in 1982 and 1986 and would love to occupy the office.

For both Garcetti and de León, there is a huge shiny thing in respective possible runhttp://www.aroundthecapitol.com/r.html?s=n&l=http://bit.ly/2P4WXnKs for governor and mayor–the 2028 Olympics. Los Angeles will be the world’s focus again after a 44-year absence while looking at cities around the world. The 1984 Olympics were one of the biggest successes of the international sporting and cultural event, even though they were boycotted by the Soviet Union and allied Eastern Bloc countries.

However, the event left the city in the black with extraordinary sponsorship fundraising and existing city facilities, and warnings of horrific traffic led to much better traffic than usual. It launched the political career of businessman Richard Riordan, who would succeed Tom Bradley for two terms as mayor and serve as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s secretary for education.

Unfortunately, the city was badly bruised only eight years later with the Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King beating and trial of Los Angeles police officers.

For 2028, the city is even more prepared, with numerous largely privately constructed facilities in a relatively close proximity. Downtown Los Angeles is no longer an abyss after business hours and on weekends with new hotels and restaurants. Los Angeles is preparing to expand its convention center and this will perhaps be the biggest international marketing event the city has ever had. Of course, like California’s other large cities, there’s still a big problem with homelessness that needs to be tackled before the global cameras converge on the City of Angels.

In short, Eric Garcetti and Kevin de León would love to be on that international stage for the Games of the XXXIV Olympiad 2028 in their city of birth, Los Angeles. They will be 57 and 60 respectively and it would be a major highlight of successful political careers, and there is a path for it to happen.

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