In predictable fashion, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a standard answer to a fairly standard question: why should Latinos support President Barack Obama in 2012? In a phone interview with Politic365 on Thursday, he cited 25 months of private sector job growth; 1.2 million new jobs for Latinos; 2 million Latinos out of poverty; expanded tax credits for 4 million Latinos; Pell grants; and the idea that the American dream would be in safer hands with Obama than with GOP rival Mitt Romney.
But, considering other recent conversations with some of the seven Latino co-chairs of Obama’s campaign, what Villaraigosa did not provide was enthusiasm — especially when it came to the issue of immigration.
Villaraigosa railed against Romney for supporting anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama, and for working with Kris Kobach — the author of those laws. He also spotlighted Romney’s “self-deportation” of 11 million that would inevitably divide families. However, when asked why Latinos should support Obama given his blockbuster deportation record — which also divides families — the mayor again fell flat.
“First of all, I don’t accept that characterization, that [the president] has been so harsh. I do acknowledge that the Secure Communities initiative got off to a rocky start,” Villaraigosa told me, by way of defending Obama. “I’ve been a passionate advocate for immigrants since I was walking alongside César Chávez. It’s not the only issue.”
Yet in the end, the best Villaraigosa could do was to bash Romney some more.
“It’s not a question if the lesser of two evils, it’s a question of, you have two candidates, and you vote for the candidate that you think will move us forward,” added the mayor. He then reiterated that Democrats were better for the country than Republicans. “I don’t think it’s a question of lesser of two evils, I think it’s a question of right or wrong.”
There are a number of factors to consider when parsing through Villaraigosa’s messaging. He is mayor of a jurisdiction saddled with a $238 million budget deficit – and he will, shortly, cease being the head of that city, the country’s second-largest. He’s also not particularly popular there, and would probably not ascend to a larger statewide role anytime soon. So, it’s no wonder that Villaraigosa is trying to align himself with the Obama campaign.
What is a wonder is that he’s not reaching beyond standard fare to do so.
Politic365 also asked Villaraigosa why he, as a Latino, would encourage other Latinos to vote for Obama. His answer: the “Latino agenda” is actually just the American agenda. And ultimately, President Obama and the Democrats would pave the way to this agenda for Latinos. You have to look at the bigger picture, he said. Everything from jobs to opportunities for children to healthcare to retirement to immigration show a “marked difference” when you look at it from Obama’s, or Romney’s, point of view.
Throughout our brief conversation though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that his words were perfunctory. When I asked him why he was away from the city days after he suggested eliminating hundreds of city jobs in a budget missing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, he seemed to get defensive. He said that at the Conference of Mayors he was advocating for tourism, which would ultimately help the city. There have been tough times before and everything worked out in Los Angeles, he said, referring to previous budget cuts. In this sense it seemed like he finally got the alignment between himself and Obama right: not perfect, but working on it.
“I think the [president's] record is pretty clear,” he said — right before he began clarifying it.