As California cities compete for billions of dollars for infrastructure projects, Los Angeles wields two distinct advantages: the biggest lobbying budget and a charismatic, Sacramento- savvy mayor. Last year, Los Angeles spent about $760,000 on lobbying in Sacramento. And in just the first three months of 2007, the city spent about $297,000, more than San Diego and San Francisco combined spent on lobbying during all of last year, according to financial reports filed this week. But while most of L.A.’s lobbying is done by consultants and city employees in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., political observers say the city’s best lobbyist is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The mayor’s political committee supporting the effort spent more than $1.1 million in Sacramento. And when the legislation was in danger of failing, the mayor repeatedly visited the Capitol to exert his influence. Even when the vote fell short on its first tally, Villaraigosa pressed his case with lawmakers in the hallways. Ultimately, the measure squeaked by on three-vote margins in both houses. Some lawmakers privately acknowledged that the mayor’s personality and his potential to be governor someday played a bigger role in their decision than the bill’s merits. The mayor’s personal lobbying efforts also made key differences in advancing a 405 Freeway interchange project and landing more transportation funding for Los Angeles. But that mettle will be tested as agencies across California battle for their share of $42 billion in voter-approved state bond funds and as lawmakers tackle a $100 billion state budget. “The mayor’s top legislative priority is to ensure Los Angeles receives its share of funding from the statewide infrastructure bonds,” said Villaraigosa spokeswoman Janelle Erickson. “This includes funding for mass transit, street maintenance, highways and local streets and roads. It also includes funding for housing, both affordable and for the homeless, and lastly funding to green Los Angeles, which includes revitalizing the river, planting a million trees and creating open space and … parks.” And attempts to land more state and federal money come at a key time for Los Angeles, which faces a sharply tightened budget and strained resources. To help its efforts in Washington, the city relies on four internal lobbyists and last year also reported paying about $380,000 to outside lobbyists. In Sacramento, the city spends roughly $800,000 a year on lobbying efforts, much of it through membership in advocacy groups. During the 2005-06 legislative session, the city paid $542,000 to the Southern California Association of Governments; $29,000 to the South Bay Cities Council of Governments; and $183,000 to the League of California Cities. Last year, the city reported spending about $188,000 on its two-person internal lobbying team of Andrew Antwih and Silvia Solis in Sacramento. The quiet-spoken Antwih, a native of Los Angeles, worked for nine years as consultant to the Assembly Transportation Committee before being hired by Villaraigosa in late 2005. “I have found Andrew to be very thorough, extremely smart, an excellent strategic thinker and he’s very knowledgeable,” said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-West Hollywood, who is also a former Los Angeles city councilman. “And I have come to consider Andrew somebody who not only comes to lobby me, but whom I can call to strategize about a variety of issues.” The city’s lobbying efforts included 45 bills last year, although only a handful were directly related to city interests. More commonly, city lobbyists weighed in on more general topics such as minimum wage and global warming. Four of the five city-related bills for which the city lobbied passed and were signed by the governor. Those included the mayor’s LAUSD takeover, a bill requested by the Community Redevelopment Agency to allow special parking for ride-sharing programs, and a bill allowing the Department of Water and Power and other utilities to charge special fees to other public agencies such as school districts. A bill to add another Los Angeles-appointed seat to the South Coast Air Quality Management Board failed. And Villaraigosa’s clout has not gone unchallenged. While the mayor did manage to get substantial funding for transportation, the city still received less than Alameda County, which is significantly smaller. Still, many expect Villaraigosa’s star power to go far. Brendan Huffman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, has accompanied the mayor on lobbying trips to Washington, and was astonished at the treatment he received. “Last year, I remember walking behind him through the halls of Rayburn \, and interns and staff members coming out of congressional offices to see him walk down,” Huffman said. “I thought, this must be like when a rock star comes to the Hill to testify.” [email protected] (916) 446-6723 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “When he makes an appearance in Sacramento, he exercises a lot more clout than the lobbyists would – or past mayors,” said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. “He knows how to push the buttons. He knows where the power centers are. On top of that, he’s a very charismatic guy who has a future.” As a former Assembly speaker and a likely gubernatorial candidate, Villaraigosa knows key players and carries significant authority in Sacramento. “Villaraigosa going to Sacramento is like \ Schwarzenegger going to Washington,” Stern said. “They both get attention wherever they go. It’s harder to say no to a popular public figure than to a lobbyist.” Villaraigosa demonstrated that power last year when he corralled reluctant lawmakers into passing legislation designed to give him more control over the Los Angeles Unified School District.