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Opinion: Villaraigosa's Ready for His Close Up

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Opinion: Mayor V's Ready for His Close Up

In this file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown, accompanied by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, signed a bill into law Wednesday authorizing some $8 billion in funding for a controversial high-speed rail project.

During the GOP national convention, actor Jon Voight was spotted meandering, virtually undisturbed, through the Media Center. Then L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, soon to preside over the Democratic National Convention, sidled in and was instantly surrounded by a swarm of reporters.

In his role as a major Obama campaign surrogate and chairman of the committee that will re-nominate the President, Villaraigosa has been getting -- and will continue to get -- a lot of national attention.

And it appears to suit him fine. But, like Cinderella at midnight at the ball, he'll find his time in the spotlight ending, as the national media turn back to the Main Event -- Obama vs. Romney. Nonetheless, for Villaraigosa, his time on the Main Stage may provide an audition for future political roles. What's next?

With less than a year before he's termed out as mayor, Villaraigosa still must deal with the realities of city politics and government. And there's that legacy thing hanging over him too. After coming up short on education reform and continuing to face intractable budget and pension reform problems, he appears to have settled on transportation as his signature issue. Certainly the Governor of California plays a significant role in transportation policy.

But Governor Jerry Brown has given no indication whether he’ll run for a second term in 2014. And should the Governor's office be open, Villaraigosa will find Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Attorney General Kamala Harris blocking his way at the front of the nomination line. Villaraigosa could look at one of the lower statewide offices. For example, the Secretary of State's office will be up for grabs in 2014, when the incumbent Debra Bowen will be termed out. A move like that could allow the Mayor to play it relatively safe in the political games and keep his options open for a future run for Governor or U.S. Senate.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina will also be termed out in 2014. There's real power in that office, but, usually, not much media visibility. A Supervisor Villaraigosa could heighten focus on the Board or he could find it frustrating -- and politically dicey -- to try. And then there is the Obama Administration.

Should the President win re-election, he'll owe something to the Latino vote, and L.A.'s Mayor is working hard on that. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has already announced he's leaving and it's in transportation that Villaraigosa has had some of his major successes. Some politicians retire to the private sector to make some money; but Villaraigosa tried that once, between his term as California Assembly Speaker and his time in L.A. city government.

In terms of California politics, despite some personal and political stumbles, Villaraigosa remains the state's most prominent Latino political figure. And California remains at the heart of the growing political and demographic strength of the nation's Latinos.

What's next for Villaraigosa isn't clear, but one thing is certain. When he relinquishes his Chairman's gavel on Thursday and the Mayor's office next year, he won't be relinquishing the spotlight.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe is a Senior Fellow at the USC Price School of Public Policy and the political analyst for NBC4.

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Related Topics OPINION, Jeffe, Villaraigosa
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