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Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles

The Bumpy Road of a Rising Democratic Superstar


Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles

Photo: David Winter/Getty Images

With his election as Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa firmly catapulted onto the national stage as a leading Latino Democratic politician.

Mir. Villaraigosa is a virtual unknown outside his home state of California. He's a dynamic speaker, tireless campaigner and shrewd politician, with an optimistic spirit and restless energy. He's a consummate coalition and consensus builder.

His story is one of a hardscrabble and troubled youth, then redemption and education followed by leadership, achievement and occasional stumbles.

Here are 25 facts to acquaint you with colorful life of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

1. Born on January 23, 1953 in East Los Angeles to a Mexican immigrant father and a California-born mother of Mexican descent. His birth name was Antonio Villar.

2. His alcoholic father beat his mother, and abandoned the family when Antonio was in kindergarten. He remains estranged from his father.

3. His mother raised her 4 children in a 2-bedroom apartment, She never owned a home and took the bus to work. She loved books and read classic literature and poetry to her children. His mother died in 1991.

4. At age 15, Antonio volunteered for the first grape boycott initiated by civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.

5. Also at 15, he developed a benign tumor in his spinal column that required surgery, and left him in constant pain which persists today. The tumor regrew in 2001, requiring a second surgery.

6. Kicked out of a Catholic high school for brawling after a football game. In tune with the era, he was a campus agitator for civil rights.

7. Completed high school at night in response to a pleading letter from his mother. “I realized that kind of anger was only hurting me and that I should take responsibility for my own life” said Antonio.

8. At night school, Antonio caught the eye of teacher Herman Katz. Mr. Katz encouraged the young Latino to consider college, and paid for his SAT exams. Said Katz, “He was bright, inquisitive. He just needed some direction.”

9. Spent a year at junior college, then entered UCLA. He led campus protests over the Vietnam War, Chicano rights and farm worker protections. He earned a degree in history from UCLA.

10. More bumps in the road: he had two daughters out of wedlock in his 20s. (He obtained shared custody.) And he was charged with assault after slugging a man who racially slurred his mother.

11. After toiling in LA activist and labor circles, Antonio earned his first political prominence as a gifted organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles.

12. Earned a JD at the People’s College of Law in 1985. He never passed the bar.

13. Married Corina Raigosa, an LA school teacher, in 1987. They combined their last names to create Villaraigosa. They have 2 children, now teenagers.

14. Appointed to LA’s Metropolitan Transportation Board, 1990-94. His support of public transportation harkens back to his mother's experiences.

15. Won his race for California State Assembly, where he served from 1994-2000, and as Assembly Speaker from 1997-2000. He left due to term limits.

16. In the Assembly, he was a charismatic leader and brilliant deal-maker with little concern for the details of policy-making. He championed the causes of education, health care, civil rights and protection for the downtrodden. He was unafraid to ruffle political feathers.

17. Returned to LA and ran for Mayor in 2001. He was the front-runner, but lost in the last days when his rival revealed that Villaraigosa wrote a letter to President Clinton asking for clemency for a convicted drug dealer.

18. Embittered, Villaraigosa sat out politics for almost 2 years. It propelled him back to the Catholic Church.

19. Ran and won the 2003 race for LA City Council from the 14th district, in east/northeast Los Angeles.

20. In 2004, he was asked to be a National Chairman of the John Kerry for President campaign. Once home from the Democratic Convention, he declared his candidacy for the 2005 LA Mayoral race.

21. On May 17,2005, Antonio Villaraigosa won the run-off race for Mayor by a margin of 59% to 41%. He’s hailed as a Latino who appeals to more than Latino voters. The press proclaimed him a rising Democratic superstar.

22. In his victory speech, he promised, “I will never forget where I came from.”

23. He’s an avid non-fiction reader. His favorite book as a youth was Herman Melville’s “Billy Bud,” about a young sailor who’s a fierce fighter and loyal friend.

24. He's a sharp dresser, owing to the days when he had holes in his clothes and cardboard holding together his shoes.

25. His campaign slogan was “Si, se puede,” which means “Yes, we can” or “It can be done.” It’s the same mantra used for decades by Cesar Chavez.

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