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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

There's one Los Angeles public figure for whom 2010 will be a mostly forgettable year.

That is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who came into 2010 off an easy reelection victory.

He began the year by opening up a little about his relationship with TV reporter Lu Parker, and how she helped him feel at peace. For those keeping score, his divorce from Corrina Raigosa also became final.

But for most of the year, the mayor was playing defense. And losing ground.

He's now 12 months closer to the end of his term, and weaker than ever -- in actuality and in perception.

January began with the mayor having shaken up his senior staff. He acknowledged, at least implicitly, that his office has been mushy about follow through on policy goals.

Even with the new team in place, editors at both the LA Times and the Daily News began to opine that the mayor seemed to have checked out.

The Daily News referred to his "apparent lack of interest" in the city, and vowed they would now watch him closer than ever.

Other media and bloggers began treating Villaraigosa like a wounded political animal.

Whenever he travels now, there are questions about how many days he will be gone from his desk. And how much it costs taxpayers.

 

KTLA reporter Eric Spillman hounded city officials until he got documents showing that Villaraigosa's entourage spent more than $120,000 to attend last December's climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Those questions fed into a full-blown controversy over the mayor's use of free tickets – often from special interests – to get into sports and cultural events.

Villaraigosa argued he had a ceremonial role to play by attending high-profile events and handing out plaques – or saying a few words at a news conference.

But it was a hard case to make when the public saw the mayor and Lu Parker cheering the Lakers from courtside seats they clearly didn't pay for.

And Villaraigosa didn't help himself by dodging questions and holding back records.

Critics also took aim at the mayor's pre-Oscar party at Getty House, the official residence, and even at Villaraigosa's presence at the Oscars and other Hollywood awards shows.

The scrutiny led to reviews of the tickets policy by the Mayor's Office, the City Ethics Commission and officials in Sacramento.

And made another dent in Villaraigosa's reputation.

Members of the City Council have taken advantage of the mayor's weakness to challenge him more openly than they did during his first term.

Some black leaders have felt dissed by their lack of contact with the mayor. Betty Pleasant, the feisty Soul Vine columnist for The Wave newspaper in South LA, ended the year by complaining that the last black senior adviser had departed the mayor's inner circle.

None of this means that Villaraigosa won't win some battles before he leaves in 2013. He's aware of the budget crisis the city faces, and has shown some signs of leadership.

His recent speech singling out the LA teachers' union for blocking school reform showed a new willingness to discomfort his friends.

But it comes a year after the last time Villaraigosa set about cleaning up his image. And that's a year he won't get back.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick withLA Observed.

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