Jewish Journal: What would you tackle first if elected?
Antonio Villaraigosa: I am a candidate for governor of California for a simple reason. I think we need a leader focused every single day on growing our economy and creating more high-wage jobs. The answer starts with making sure our state is investing enough in our schools, colleges, health care, roads, rail, housing and water infrastructure, which are the basic building blocks of a strong economy.
We must close the widening gap of income inequality and lift more families into the middle class. So my priority is creating high-wage jobs. That’s because economic opportunity and economic equality are the very foundation of the California dream.
As mayor [of Los Angeles], I managed the state’s largest city in the midst of the Great Recession. I saw clearly that economic opportunity is linked to great schools, transportation investments and the kind of affordable housing that allows businesses to attract top talent and expand. I will focus on helping to increase affordable housing for more Californians, better schools, better transit and infrastructure — because I know these investments grow our economy and help bring our state together.
JJ: How would you address the massive sinkhole that has become the construction of the bullet train?
AV: I support high-speed rail and always have. Fundamentally, I believe in investing in infrastructure and connecting the two Californias through high-speed rail. We need to look at the cost, and we need to look at its financing. When I was mayor, we passed Measure R, which would generate $40 billion over 30 years. We spearheaded America Fast Forward, which allows cities like Los Angeles to access federal loans to accelerate transportation. We built four light-rail lines and busways.
High-speed rail creates jobs and brings people together. We have to move people and goods throughout this state. High-speed rail is the connection to do that.
JJ: Earlier this year, your Republican opponents vowed to maintain attacks against you over your previous affairs. How do you deal with these attacks — especially in light of the #MeToo movement?
AV: It is unfortunate that these important social and cultural movements, #MeToo and #Enough, are being used in blatantly political ways. First, I have apologized to my family for the hurt and pain I caused as a result of my errors in judgment, and to the residents of Los Angeles. Second, no one has suggested, nor can they, that my affairs were anything other than consensual relationships between adults — absolutely not equivalent to the type of behavior that has led to these important movements. I will continue to support and respect the bravery of women who have spoken out against the abuse and behavior of men in power.
JJ: In the same vein, with the #MeToo and #Enough movements, what would you do to ensure your administration has a transparent reporting system?
AV: In my work as an investigator with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a former union organizer and as president of the ACLU, I learned that protecting women and all people in the workplace starts with making sure they have strong representation, the right and power and authority to speak out about injustice or mistreatment, and strong laws and protections that are vigorously enforced.
I will work with my administration to ensure that all serving in government understand their responsibilities and obligations, and that we have an effective and transparent reporting system, while protecting important privacy rights of those filing complaints.
JJ: You’ve been accused of “carrying water” for a broken criminal justice system. Currently, certain elements are using “law and order” and “tough on crime” as dog whistles to court racist voters. How do you separate yourself from that message, and how would you handle the federal government’s attempts to demonize people of color as “animals”?
AV: It’s unfortunate that the support given to me by various law enforcement associations is viewed by some as not supporting criminal justice reform. That is far from the reality. Building bridges is something I have always done throughout my career and in public life. I’m clear in my message in this campaign: We don’t leave anyone behind. It’s why I talk so much about building and sharing prosperity in our state, and why I work so hard to engage every community in the state. I did it in Los Angeles, considered to be one of the most diverse cities in the world and certainly in our state.
From a public safety standpoint, as mayor I knew that for our city to succeed it had to be a place where police and communities respected each other and worked together, where crimes were investigated promptly, where young people learned to make positive decisions rather than act out in violence, and anyone trapped in a violent relationship had help getting out. We knew Los Angeles could be that city.
Reaching across communities is nothing new to me, it’s been a cornerstone of my approach throughout my career. I look forward to partnering with law enforcement and communities across the state to build lasting bonds that keep us safe and build our communities up.
JJ: How important do you feel it is to be a Latino candidate?
AV: This was asked of me when I first ran for mayor of Los Angeles, and my view then is the same as today — I am proud of my heritage, but first and foremost I am proud to work on behalf of all Californians. As mayor, I worked hard to make sure all residents, whatever their race or ethnic heritage, understood that every day I worked on their behalf to make our city better. It is the same approach I will take if I should become the first Latino governor in over a century.
JJ: Would you continue current Gov. Jerry Brown’s stance to stand up to the Trump administration and Republican leadership in areas where Californians don’t agree with the current administration’s agenda?
AV: California and Californians are under attack by the Trump administration. Our neighbors who are immigrants are under assault by this administration. Attacks on the Affordable Care Act and efforts to undermine it are hurting Californians who were able to obtain health insurance because of this law. Our environmental protections, which the voters of California have consistently supported, are also under attack. My track record as a legislator, as speaker and as mayor shows that I am a fighter and I will not back down when Trump continues his assault. Let’s be clear: My job as governor would be to work every day to improve economic opportunity for everyone, and fighting Trump is only a part of the job.