Newsom taps Villaraigosa, former election opponent, to advise on California infrastructure

·2 min read
Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that former Los Angeles mayor and gubernatorial opponent Antonio Villaraigosa will become Infrastructure Advisor to the State of California.

The appointment follows U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s announcement of $2.2 billion in grants under the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, $120 million of which will go toward California projects.

Newsom said in a statement that Villaraigosa will help prioritize and secure funding for various transit system improvements across the state, including the Merced extension of the much-debated high-speed rail project.

“With this influx of federal dollars, we have an incredible opportunity to rebuild California while creating quality jobs, modernizing crucial infrastructure, and accelerating our clean transportation progress, benefiting communities up and down the state,” Newsom said. “Antonio has the extensive experience and relationships to deliver on this promise and bring together the many partners who will be key to our success.”

Villaraigosa will serve as a liaison between local elected officials and federal leaders in D.C. He will not be an employee of the state. His position will be funded through a partnership with the nonprofit California Forward.

Newsom and Villaraigosa squared off in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, during which Villaraigosa ran ads accusing Newsom of “boasting” and “overselling his achievements.” The videos, which have since been taken down, were paid for by billionaire supporters of the charter school movement.

Newsom won the primary by more than 1 million votes, but the two came together after months of sparring to unite against Republican John Cox. Villaraigosa served as Mayor of Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013, and was the city’s first Latino mayor since 1872. He left office in 2013 with a 47 percent approval rating after overseeing California’s most populous city during the national housing crisis and economic recession.