It was another whirlwind day in the life of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this week as he began by ceremoniously reopening Homeboy Industries Bakery just west of Boyle Heights and north of his downtown City Hall offices. But just days before there wasn’t as much pomp and circumstance when the Mayor terminated African American woman, Gloria Jeff from her post of the powerful Department of Transportation.
When questioned by the Sentinel during an impromptu exclusive interview about the firing of Jeff and replacing her with 30-year City employee Rita Robinson, the Mayor while briskly walking and still taste testing some of the bakeries pleasantries responded, “It was time for a change and in the course of this administration sometimes you have to readjust and move in another direction.”
City Hall insiders who wish to remain anonymous offered a much different view as to what is transpiring with Black employees under the Mayor’s political umbrella.
While Jeff was replaced with another Black woman in Robinson, instead of progress sources referred to it as “negro musical chairs.”
Nonetheless, Villaraigosa defended his record, “First of all, 23 percent of my appointments to the City are African Americans and African Americans are just 10 percent of the population. This is as diverse an administration as there has been in Los Angeles history whether they are appointments, general managers or the first Black fire chief we selected.”
A City Department chart for 2007 reveals that city departments important to the African American community are not led by them. Aging, now headed by Hispanic woman Laura Trejo, was represented by a Black appointee under former Mayor Richard Riordan and Community Redevelopment, headed by Hispanic Cecelia Estolano, had a Black appointee under former Mayor James Hahn.
The Mayor currently does not have a single Black deputy since Marcus Allen left for unspecified reasons over a month ago.
While Mayor Villaraigosa may be quick to boast about the nine Black general managers that he has appointed, but two of those, Richard Benbow and Robinson, are nearing retirement and five of the nine will be retired in five years, according to City Hall sources.
More important, sources say, is the amount of money controlled by Mayor Villaraigosa under the Department of Public Works Sanitation and Department of Transportation, which is an estimated $1.7 billion. A Hispanic male replaced Robinson as general manager in Sanitation.
“It’s an enormous amount of financial power without a vote from the City council and while the departments do have commissions, they are individuals appointed by the Mayor and are favorable to him. It affects contracts among other things,” the source added.
Meanwhile, Jeff is not sure which direction she will go after first, being asked to resign and then, when she didn’t cooperate, was abruptly terminated.
She had been appointed as Department of Transportation general manager 18 months ago by Mayor Villaraigosa and says that she was beginning to make progress on goals outlined to her by the Mayor.
When asked what the goals were, she stated that it was the agency’s response time to citizens and City Council, ways to attack traffic congestion and finally additional funds from the federal government.
Jeff says that she was shocked when Chief of Staff Robin Kramer requested her resignation.
“I asked why? I will need some time to think about this and she said that I had until noon the following day to give her an answer,” Jeff told the Sentinel in an exclusive interview.
Jeff cited among her reasons for more time was to have her lawyer examine the proposed severance agreement and to discuss the matter in private with her family.
“They said that if you resign, everything that will be said by this office...will be positive, but if you don’t, we’ll go another way,” Jeff added.
Elaborating further, Jeff explained that she informed Kramer that she could not resign on Friday, Sept. 28, but would consider doing so on Monday, Oct. 1, but Kramer refused the request and fired Jeff on the spot.