From the Harvard Gazette (Full disclosure: My parents met at Harvard, so I owe Harvard my life, literally. My mother worked in the Harvard administration f0r 25 years, and I (C 1972, American Government), my sister and my father all graduated from the college):
“IOP [ Institute Of Politics] fall visiting fellows include Hilda L. Solis, former U.S. labor secretary (2009-13) and U.S. representative (CA-32nd, D; 2001-09) and Antonio Villaraigosa, two-term mayor of Los Angeles (2005-13). Visiting fellows traditionally meet with student groups; lead discussion groups on topical issues and their experiences in public and political service; and participate in public policy classes.”
Antonio Villaraigosa engaged in exactly the kinds of unethical practices that Harvard is supposed to be training leaders to eschew. He is neither academically distinguished (he flunked the bar four times) nor an appropriate role model, and for Harvard to intentionally expose its students to a repeat ethics violator like Villaraigosa is a breach of trust and responsibility. It is ethically indefensible.
Right now, I am in a state, Virginia, where the Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, has been exposed for accepting unreported gifts. While mayor, Villaraigosa set the record for the largest ethics fine levied in California state history — $41,849 — for failing to disclose about $42,ooo in free tickets he received to Los Angeles Lakers games, the finals of “American Idol” and more than two dozen other sports and entertainment events. Accepting gifts and not reporting them provides the slippery slope to bribery, and involves the use of an official position for personal advantage.
In 2007, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission accused him of 31 ethics violations surrounding his 2003 run for City Council. Villaraigosa only contested one of them. He also engaged in flagrant nepotism, handing his daughter a $68k per year job with the state as a field representative for Democrats, though she had no relevant qualifications or education. He engineered a classic boondoggle worthy of a James Michael Curley or Marion Barry, getting the city, then as now in dire financial peril, to pay for and maintain a yacht that was used almost exclusively by the mayor for his own political purposes. The total price tag for the city approached $600,000.
Meanwhile, while mayor he engaged in not one but two sexual affairs with news reporters assigned to the city hall beat, compromising their integrity and rigging the coverage of his administration. Of course, he was married at the time.
The issue isn’t whether he was the most corrupt mayor, or whether taking the kinds of gifts he accepted is common, or whether using city funds for luxuries is a frequent practice among big city leaders, or whether the public cares any more about the private lives of its elected officials. I am happy to argue any one of these one by one, but this shouldn’t need to be argued: a former mayor chosen to teach government and politics to aspiring students ought to be an exemplary one, not just a sadly typical example of a crooked, self-serving pol who tried to get away with anything he could. And that’s all Villaraigosa is.
When Harvard adds a repeat and unapologetic offender like this to its instructors, Harvard is lending its reputation and credibility to the message that behaving like Villaraigosa is acceptable, and it is not, even though, because the Los Angeles culture is so corrupt itself, it was accepted. Oh, the ex-mayor was considered a rock star, and like Bill Clinton, the usual suspects worked overtime using every rationalization they could dream up to make the case that he wasn’t an untrustworthy rogue, but the record shows that’s exactly what he was, and presumably remains.
Unless Harvard can show that nowhere in America is there any mayor who has not accepted unreported gifts, given unqualified members of his family taxpayer funded jobs, and slept with the press, then its selection of Antonio Villaraigosa as a fellow is a disservice to its students, a foul blot on the institution, and proof of rotten values, priorities and judgment.
If it can show that sad state of affairs, then it should stop appointing mayors at all.