AV: "That's exactly right. So it wasn't ideological. It was practical. There were people saying that L.A. was going to go bankrupt. And a couple of times I pushed back, and I smirked, and I said, 'Hey, not under my watch.' We were looking at a $1.1-billion structural deficit. We're now at a $150 million. According to the chief administrative officer, we're on path to be in a surplus in three years if we stay the course. But as much as we've done around pension reform, we've got to do more. Today a mayor, I won't say which one because it was a private conversation, but a mayor called me and said, 'Look, after your term is over, will you work with me on pension reform statewide?' I said 'absolutely.'"
LAT: But those decisions that you made — even as recently as just a couple of months ago — you said that city employees should not take raises until 2017, new raises—
AV: "On the recommendation of the chief administrative officer, I said that. And I believe that and I hope that the next mayor and the council, and the council's already put the money in the reserve, I hope that they'll be able to successfully do that. I know this — a year later when those contracts are open, we can't give them a raise.
LAT: There's that decision, there's also what you said about the pay raises that you all agreed to a few years ago — 25% — and that being a big regret for that five-year period, then going up against the teachers unions—
AV: "It was a big regret but remember the CAO negotiates those contracts, the council unanimously supported it, and so did I, and that's why — because it was such a regret — that's why I was as strong about sharing the sacrifice and the responsibility, furloughing, laying off, consolidating departments, finding efficiencies, bringing in new revenue and cutting our structural deficit.
LAT: All of those decisions over time and taking that stance toward labor, will that have a political cost for you, if you run later?
AV: "Yeah. Of course. There's no question about it."
LAT: Do you expect the unions to be with you?
AV: "Don't know. But there's no question that they're a powerful interest, that expected people like me — because we were supported by them — have to agree with them all the time. And that's what you learn when you have a big job. You learn that you're not here to be popular. You're not here to agree with the people that support you all the time."
LAT: You were very popular with the Republicans last year, who cited you as a Democrat who had gone up against labor. So in some ways that political positioning could actually help you appeal to a broader base of voters in the future—
AV: "Wait, Wait, Wait. Let me push back a little bit. You guys just did a poll and Republicans apparently support me at 26%—
LAT: Yeah but we're talking about L.A.—
AV: "And I'll tell you what — they don't even know that we've done all this. I mean that's what's good about doing an interview like this. They don't even know — again you do the fact checking — there aren't a whole lot of cities that took their current employees from 6[%] to 11% contribution for their pensions. There aren't a whole lot of cities that have done a new pension tier the way that we've done. The fact is, we've done a lot and we've done a lot to challenge what's broken. The status quo, whether it's disrupting feathers on this side or the other side. I've also been aggressively for marriage equality. I was one of four mayors that said to the mayors of the country — we ought to all be for it. There are now 300 mayors. I also led the effort to take on seniority and tenure at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. We supported that. Immigration reform — we supported that. National building — I said we can't build bridges and hospitals in Baghdad and Kandahar and not in Kansas City. So I take on what I hope — with Bloomberg I signed on and joined the Fix the Debt Coalition. I campaigned with Obama against privatizing Social Security. And I campaigned against turning Medicare into voucher care, but on both counts I said we can reform Social Security, not privatize it and reform Medicare and not make it into voucher care. So there's a middle ground that unfortunately a lot of the special interests and a lot of the extremes on both sides — they don't want to find that middle road. And that's the only way to fix what's broken in the city, the state and the country. I call it the radical middle. And what it is — it's that path that takes us forward. Look what's happening in Washington, what's happened until we got a 2/3 majority in Sacramento. There's this unwillingness to compromise. It used to be that compromise, civility, statesmanship were things that we respected. Now they're like bad words."
LAT: What's broken on the left? You made a reference to that earlier.
AV: Defending pensions that don't work. Seniority… Why should you be able to keep your job as a teacher because you've been there the longest? Why should you have a job for life or why should every decision be based on seniority. That's not a system that works. The environmental laws. Our green initiatives are some of the more far-reaching in the country — and yet, we've got a CEQA system that makes it almost impossible to build anything in this state. You've got to challenge what's broken on this side and on that side."
LAT: You mentioned that a lot of people are unfamiliar with the details of your record. Why do you think that people, not knowing details of your record, they still have strong opinions about you. A lot of people really like you a lot; a lot of people really dislike you a lot — and it also breaks down along ethnic lines a little bit. Why?
AV: "Look, we're living in a 24-hour news cycle and yet, you'd be surprised by how little information actually seeps through. To be honest — car crashes, sensational stories kind of always take precedence. I think that's part of it. But in the end, look, to be in the middle of a recession and have half the people and the other half not — not so bad. But I started off by saying, I don't think you're in these jobs to be popular. You're in these jobs to do what you think is right. Sometimes that will be popular, sometimes it won't."
LAT: One question on the personal side, when you've been asked about regrets that you had. You've mentioned a number of times that you wish you'd handled the breakup of your marriage better. That's obviously a personal matter. Now that you're thinking about a run for governor — how do you think that has shaped public perceptions of you?
AV: "I'm glad you asked that question because that certainly, as you said, not just a regret, but it was a very painful time for me and my family. I should have handled that better, but not for politics. I should have handled it better for my family. The story that almost nobody knows: Antonio and Natalia have been living with their dad. A story that people don't know: Antonio, Natalia, Marcela and Priscilla are closer than we've ever been in our life. A story they don't know is that Corina and I are friends. You know, the fact of the matter is, people didn't know the story. They just know what they think and so I'm not thinking about that as a regret because of what people think politically. I'm thinking about it because I know it was deeply painful to my kids, to my family, and that's why I bring it up when you all ask. You don't have to ask. I almost always bring it up. I've taken responsibility for it. And the good news is — we're closer than in any time in our lives."
LAT: So is the whole gang going to be in Venice?
AV: "The whole gang will be around. You remember, a couple of them are already big. We got together on Father's Day and we had a great time. You know, we're a close family."
LAT: In closing we wanted to ask, not only what you're looking forward to personally now that you'll be free of these duties, but also what you think the city will look like 50 years from now. When you think about all the changes that you put into place that people maybe aren't seeing now, what's your vision of what L.A. will be 50 years from now?
AV: I think when we fully build out our transit system, doubling the size of our transit system is not where we should stop. We should go beyond that. We'll see a very different city. More people live closer to work. More people live in neighborhoods where they can work, shop, play, eat. We'll still have some neighborhoods with the single-family nice homes, front lawn, back lawn, pool. But you're going to see a lot more people living down these transportation corridor nodes. I think what you'll see, and I've been saying this since 2001, and most of you probably thought it was like, hyperbole, but let me just tell you this. I said in 2001, L.A. is to the world what New York was in the 20th century and London in the 19th century. Why did I say that? Because this is the Pacific Century. I've met three times with President Xi Jinping [of China]. I've gone to China three times, Korea three times. We have more visitors from China. When I went the first time in 2006 and opened up a tourism office, 110,000 Chinese were coming to L.A. Today 160,000 Chinese are coming. They spend on average $7,000 when they're here — more than any other tourist. This year we are going to have 100,000 new international tourists; 70,000 of them will come from China. We move 44% of the Chinese goods. I've been to Korea three times. I've had two Korean presidents at my home. This is the Pacific Century. Oh, Mexico's economy is growing 4% — fastest growing economy in Latin America. With a gateway to China, Korea, the rising economies of Asia, with a gateway to Mexico and Latin America, with the most diverse city maybe anywhere in the world, but certainly anywhere in the country, we're uniquely poised to take advantage of this Pacific Century. So if you want to get an idea of what I'm going to be doing, I am going to be talking about and working on L.A.'s position in the Pacific Century and California's position. Not enough of us understand that this is the key to our future."
AV: "So one last thing. You didn't ask what I'm proud of. You wanted to talk legacy and you said how is the city better, but let me tell you something I'm proud of and this is something in particular for the L.A. Times. When I was first running, not you all, but your reporters described me as the Latino candidate for mayor. There was a lot of talk — what did it mean to elect me, someone who, by the way, was born here and has roots here for 100 years — what did it mean. And I said back then, I want to be a mayor for everyone. And I had to go all the way to the publisher to change that description, because I said to them, "Look, if you describe me as the Latino candidate for mayor, you're saying to everybody who's not Latino, I'm not their candidate. They said, 'Well, you're making history.' And I said 'That's true, write a story about how I'm making history.' Kathleen Connell is in the race, she'd make history too, first woman; Joel Wachs, first openly gay candidate, he'd be making history; Steve Soboroff is Jewish, he'd be making history. I said, 'I was born here. I'm an American.' I'm proud of that … 12 years later. I tell people, half the people like me, as you said, half the people don't. Almost nobody in this town describes me as the Latino mayor. I love that. We had a big celebration of our ethnic heritage, our multi-cultural heritage in this town. And by the way, contrary to what you might have read in some of the essays or articles out there, we've been doing that every year. Every year, we have that celebration. Now this one was bigger, and this one was also an opportunity to say goodbye. Why? Because I had advocated the notion that L.A.'s strength is the fact that we're so diverse. That we come from every corner of the earth. I love that about L.A. And I'm proud of this — 13 years later, 12 years later— L.A. is more comfortable with its diversity. In fact, I think today, L.A. revels in its diversity. Nobody even thinks about me being from here, from there. You know, I'm just — the mayor. I'm proud of that. I'm not saying I'm the only one who's played a role in that, of course not, but I am proud that I opened up a door. And in that vein, that's why I'm so passionate about education. I've said that when you open up the door for one of us, you open up the door for all of us. I was at the home of an Armenian family last night for dinner, beautiful family, and they said, 'You know, the Armenians really support you.' I was with an important Korean singer, he said 'The Koreans really support you.' And I said, you know, if I'd gotten support from Israelis and Persians and Chinese and Filipinos and Armenians, it's because when they saw me run, they said, 'If he can do it, my kid can do it too.' And they all shook their head at dinner while we were feasting on a great meal. And it's true. So I love L.A. [slaps the table]. I'm ready to ride into the sunset."