The Velvet Mafia has yet to break the pink ceiling within the Senate or inside governors' mansions, but gays and lesbians have successfully invaded the power circles of America's biggest cities. Sam Adams runs Portland, Ore., Christine Quinn is the speaker of the New York city council, and in December, Annise Parker has a good shot at becoming Houston's first lesbian mayor. In Los Angeles, Matt Szabo took over one of the top spots in city government when he was announced as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff in September. The 33-year-old Southern California native talks to about his new job at City Hall, Proposition 8, and balancing (or not balancing) career and love. What exactly does your job entail?
Matt Szabo: Everything. I report to the chief of staff and the mayor on all of the issues under their purview, which include the budget, labor relations, public safety, gang reduction, intergovernmental affairs, etc. But my specific charge in the administration is to be the administration’s problem solver. And in my prior role in the press office I’m used to immediate responses and crisis management, and that’s essential to my role within this administration.

How did you start in politics?
I was a graduate student at the University of Southern California and was fortunate enough to get an internship in the office of former mayor Richard Riordan. I was working for a deputy mayor who liked my work, and he hired me after a couple of months. Then I held a couple of positions in Mayor Riordan’s office, dealing with state politics and serving as a liaison to the city council and continued on with Mayor Riordan on his [unsuccessful] campaign for [California] governor. I then worked after that campaign for state councilwoman, now controller Wendy Gruel, city attorney Rocky Delgadillo, and then ran the communications for one of the Mayor Villaraigosa’s opponents in the 2005 election. After which he hired me to work in his press office.

Mayor Villaraigosa is a staunch supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. Would you be able to work for a mayor who was less of a gay advocate?
I don’t think so. I think that for me it is a threshold issue. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work for a number of elected officials who all supported gay rights and ultimately same-sex marriage. That’s particularly what I admired initially about Mayor Riordan who was a Republican, but who held firm in his support for gay rights, even to his political detriment. I don’t think there is a stronger advocate of gay rights or same-sex marriage than Mayor Villaraigosa, particularly among straight elected officials. He has been a supporter of gay rights since well before he was an elected official, for decades before it was the “in thing” among Democrats.

Has being gay made any impact, positive or negative, on your career?
I’ve had the opportunity to represent the concerns and interests of the community in this office and the offices I served previously. But I also think that working in Los Angeles, we are fortunate here, and I’m [in this job] because of my qualifications, not because I checked a box. But I also know that L.A., San Francisco, and New York are still the outliers. And the mayor understands when he is fighting for rights for gays and lesbians, it isn’t just for people living in Los Angeles. It’s important that we continue to support gay rights for those who are not fortunate enough to live in cities as open as Los Angeles. 

Tags: Politicians