Not ‘Mayor’ Padilla, but ‘Congressman’ Padilla

Alex Padilla, a rising star of Los Angeles politics, says he’s thinking of running for mayor when the office opens up in 2013, but those who know him think that the former high school and college baseball star is throwing local politicos a curveball.

Padilla, the former City Council president and current state senator representing the San Fernando Valley, is thinking of higher office, close insiders are saying privately — and he wants to keep his name in front of voters and the political landscape.

But they’re saying Padilla has his sights on an entirely different higher office — the House of Representatives.

In 2012, insiders are saying, Padilla wants to be positioned for a congressionial seat that will have been created for a Latino in the Valley after a lot of squabbling and in-fighting in the redistricting battle ahead. None of  the three House members who represent most of the Valley — Howard Berman, Brad Sherman and Henry Waxman — want to talk about it. But none of them have forgotten the behind-the-scenes rumble after the 2000 Census.

Latinos wanted a congressional seat in the Valley at that time, didn’t get one and vowed it would be different after the 2010 Census. And they’re preparing for the showdown. The only question, they say, is what scenario will play out peacefully putting one of  the incumbents out the door. The narrative some of them think is most likely is President Obama offering one of those three Congressmen a high-level administration position.

What those Latino pols weren’t looking forward to was the bloodbath that would ensue as to who would be the San Fernando Valley’s first Latino Congressman.

Richard Alarcon, the City Councilman, who has never met a political office he didn’t want to run for, was thought to be the likely frontrunner.  But that opportunity, many Latino political insiders say, has virtually disappeared for Alarcon after his indictment for fraud over his residency. Even an acquittal, many of them think, wouldn’t be enough to allow him to recover.

Padilla, meanwhile, has remained the shining knight. Aside from ambition, his name is spotless. He firmed up his party’s credentials by supporting Gavin Newsom both in his gubernatorial and lieutenant gov campaigns, and he remains well-liked by business leaders in the Valley and in downtown Los Angeles.

Ideally, insiders are hoping, Alarcon will be convinced that Padilla is the future of both Latino and Valley politics — especially for Democrats, who are short on attractive young candidates for statewide campaigns in the future. He does not have the baggage, political and personal, of Antonio Villaraigosa, who has found that charisma will only take you so far in politics.

So while Padilla ignite talk about succeeding Antonio, know that he has also learned one big lesson from the present mayor: When you’re ambitious and looking at political offices as stepping stones to even greater heights, steer away from those where you have to govern in a time of ungovernable budgets and bureaucracies.

As Alex learned when he was playing baseball, sit on the fastballs.