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'I left it all on the field': Villaraigosa reflects after a bruising loss in California governor's primary

Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- In his sun-splashed home in the Hollywood Hills, Antonio Villaraigosa has been busy writing thank-you notes.

A week after the former Los Angeles mayor's loss in the California governor's race, he has penned more than 100 -- and has many more to go. He's talked with longtime friends including Hillary Clinton and dined with allies such as philanthropist Eli Broad, who contributed more than $3.5 million in support of Villaraigosa's bid.

What he hasn't been doing, Villaraigosa said, is second-guessing campaign tactics that led to a distant third-place finish in the June 5 primary, including a bruising defeat on his home turf to fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom. It was probably his final run for political office.

"I've never been a guy that looks back," Villaraigosa said as he glanced at stacks of blank greeting cards on his dining room table, an expansive view of the Los Angeles skyline visible in the background. "I have no regrets. I left it all on the field."

Villaraigosa, 65, has wanted to be governor for at least a decade. He decided against a 2010 run, he said, because as mayor of Los Angeles, he didn't want to leave the city as it recovered from a recession.

When he broached a 2018 campaign, Villaraigosa said his allies, donors and advisers urged him not to do it.

"Virtually all my friends thought I was insane," he said, pointing to his lucrative post-mayoral career in the private sector after a humble upbringing and previous work as a labor organizer and elected official. "They saw I was finally making a few dollars.... Almost everybody thought it was too risky, I had too much to overcome."

Those closest to him cited several reasons to turn back: He left office and the public eye in 2013 after eight years as mayor, had never run for statewide office, and wasn't well known outside Los Angeles. He previously served as speaker of the state Assembly, leaving the statehouse in 2000.

But once he decided to do it, he said his supporters backed him because they had seen him come from behind before and emerge victorious, notably in the 2005 mayor's race. They generously supported his bid, donating to his campaign and an independent expenditure committee that spent $32 million boosting Villaraigosa.

"A number of them said, 'You never cease to amaze me. You always seem to pull it through. Let's go for it,'" Villaraigosa said. "But no one was excited about it and almost everybody, the vast majority of their input was, 'I don't think you should do this. It's too hard.'"

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