For the first time in his public life, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo finds himself at loose ends, with no clear goals beyond his current job and uncertain what the future holds. “I do love my job. I do love public service,” Delgadillo said in a recent interview. “I don’t see myself doing anything else. And I’m not thinking beyond this job. “I am doing what I have always done before: I am applying myself to do the best I can, and things will work out.” It’s a somewhat odd statement coming from Delgadillo, who laid out his path to the City Attorney’s Office several years before he first ran for the job in 2001 and scored an upset victory over then-Councilman Mike Feuer. But Delgadillo, who easily won re-election last year, will be termed out of his $175,000-a-year office in 2009, and experts agree his future remains unclear in a changing political landscape. “If you look at the coalition he built in his first election, when he came from nowhere to win, a lot of us thought he was the future of Latino politics,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles. “He still does have a future, but I’m not sure where he goes. In a sense, he’s a victim of term limits and the ‘Antonio factor.’” It was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s election last year that eclipsed almost all local politicians and set in motion a new dynamic, with a number of up-and-coming politicians. “For Rocky, the timing couldn’t be worse,” Regalado said. “He has about three years left before he is termed out and there are no real offices out there for him to run for to remain visible to the public. “And if you’re not in office, you are conceding a lot of attention to people who are there, the people like Alex Padilla or Fabian Nu?ez, who are building their own bases of support.” Since being elected, Delgadillo has maintained a relatively low-key demeanor at City Hall, driving the third-largest public legal office in the state — behind the attorney general and Los Angeles County district attorney — and overseeing a staff of 800 and an annual budget of $86 million. But that changed this year as Delgadillo found himself embroiled in a series of high-profile setbacks, including a losing bid for state attorney general, criticism from City Controller Laura Chick and the ire of the City Council over his legal opinion questioning the legality of their effort to extend their possible terms in office to three. With the city controller, Delgadillo came under fire for his department’s policies in hiring outside law firms. But Delgadillo maintains he has saved the city money and sought outside advice only when special expertise was needed. Under Delgadillo, the amounts paid by the city in liability cases have gone down nearly every year. Just months later, however, Delgadillo found himself at odds with the City Council when he issued a legal opinion questioning council members’ combining of an ethics-reform package with an extension of City Council term limits in a measure on the Nov. 7 ballot. While a Superior Court judge agreed with Delgadillo, an appeals court has set a hearing on the issue Tuesday. Still, Delgadillo’s opinion drew angry rebukes from some council members, who said they never asked for his opinion on the issue. “I was doing my job,” Delgadillo responds. “I am an elected official of this city with an obligation to advise the City Council on what is legal.” But perhaps the biggest blow to Delgadillo, who some former aides said harbors ambitions to be president one day, was his decisive loss to Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown in the Democratic primary for attorney general. It was a post that Delgadillo had long staked out. “I ran for attorney general because it is one of the greatest offices in the land,” Delgadillo said. “As city attorney, I realized that being the people’s lawyer, having immediate access to the justice system, gives you a special place to impact people’s lives. I thought as attorney general, I could do even more.” However, the reality of going up against Brown — a former governor whose family has one of the best-known names in California politics — proved too much. “I think, going for that office, Rocky did about as well as could be expected,” said Alice Borden, who served as Delgadillo’s fundraiser and political strategist in the June primary. “The fact is, he was going up against a political icon who still has a lot of support in this state. I think, for a first-time candidate on a statewide level, Rocky did well. And I think he can do whatever he puts his mind to in the future.” Borden said she came to that conclusion when she and Delgadillo returned to Delgadillo’s high school campus to film a political commercial. “He was like a hero to the people there,” Borden said. “He has an amazing story.” Delgadillo grew up in Highland Park, where he says being a fast runner kept him out of gang violence. It also was his speed and size that won him a football scholarship to Harvard University and took him to Columbia Law School. From there, he landed at the prestigious law firm of O’Melveney and Myers, where he eventually worked with former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Delgadillo left the law firm after the Los Angeles riots to work for Rebuild L.A. And when Riordan was elected mayor in 1993, he came to City Hall as a deputy mayor, responsible for luring business and investment to the city. During his tenure, Delgadillo created one of the most popular and successful programs in the city with his neighborhood prosecutor program. Under the program, deputy city attorneys are assigned to communities where they work with residents, businesses and police to try to head off problems. “They are like our cavalry,” Delgadillo said. “They spot problems as they develop so we can react to them. When I came here, I saw that we were just a reactive agency. Cases would come to us and we would deal with them like we always had. “I kept thinking there had to be a way to deal with these issues ahead of time, before they landed on our desk as a criminal matter.” It was along the same lines that he developed Operation Bright Future, working at middle schools with students and their parents to make sure the kids remain in class. “What we found is that 70 percent of the kids stayed in school and are graduating,” Delgadillo said. “That’s seven out of 10 kids who aren’t in gangs, who aren’t roaming the streets, who aren’t in jail.” Delgadillo said he has been able to back it up with an aggressive anti-truancy program in which parents are held responsible if their kids are not in school. “We have only had to prosecute 12 cases,” Delgadillo said. “A lot of it is just explaining to parents what their rights and responsibilities are and what we expect of them.” Now, as for his future, Delgadillo said he doesn’t think about it. “As a kid growing up in Highland Park and given the chances I was given, I realized my future was determined by what I was doing day by day, by doing the work on my desk. So I am doing the work on my desk as best as I can and the future will take care of itself. … “We still have a lot to do here and I am going to push to do all that we can.” — Rick Orlov, (213) 978-0390 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!