by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
May 31, 2001
In this city of dreams, none burns brighter than that of Antonio Villaraigosa. From the East Los Angeles barrio to the mansions of theaffluent West Side, his vision for the City of Angels has inspired, united, renewed and lifted us, revitalized our decaying democratic process, and offered meaningful change to a population that has heard it promised many times but now has a real opportunity to see it come.
Born here to a poor, hard-working immigrant mother and abusive, alcoholic Irish-Mexican father, he found his dreams extinguished in his sophomore year of high school when doctors discovered a tumor on his spine that paralyzed his legs and kept him from playing high school sports. Soon after recovering, he felt his future slipping away and dropped out of high school.
But that would not be the end of Antonio Villaraigosa. Urged forward by his mother, he returned to study at night and finish his senior year. There was no stopping him after that. He headed the UCLA chapter of the Chicano activist group MEChA, got a law degree from the Antioch-sponsored People's Law School, became head of the local ACLU, married a teacher and became lead organizer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles, and then got union support to get elected to a hotly-contested seat in the California State Assembly.
Once there, watching the dramatic turnover occasioned by the advent of term limits, he seized the opportunity to run for Speaker.
Thus, just three years after first getting elected to office, he became one of the four most powerful people in the State of California.
In the Assembly, Villaraigosa built coalitions from the most unlikely combinations of interests the hidebound California Assembly had ever seen. Far-right Republicans joined with far-left Democrats in support of legislative proposals he pushed for school bonds and parks - bills that not only became law, but have begun to transform at last the barren landscapes of education and parks in California.
Villaraigosa's most important challenge as a democratic leader came when he was asked to support a bill that would make it possible for the San Fernando Valley, part of which was in his district, to break away from the present City of Los Angeles by removing the absolute veto the Los Angeles City Council then had over secession proposals.
His suppoort was critical to passage of the legislation, but Villaraigosa encountered heavy opposition from entrenched city interests - much of it from the politicians whose support would be crucial in any future legislative or municipal race.
The former Speaker later explained at a mayoral debate sponsored by The American Reporter that he was committed to a democratic process, and that this meant allowing people to vote on issues whether or not he agreed with their point of view. To us, that is the missing ingredient in American public life today: the inclusion not just of ethnically diverse but politically diverse points of view in the mainstream democratic process. Achieving that could well make the difference between dissidence in our present and civil strife in our future.
At a personal level, Villaraigosa freely admits his personal and political mistakes; to us, that is a refreshing and hopeful quality. But it is not his mistakes or apologies that inspires us to endorse him for Mayor of Los Angeles on June 5.
We believe that Antonio Villaraigosa is an accident of history, one of the million-to-one shots who come along once or twice in a century to offer leadership of such breadth, intelligence and compassion that it truly transforms the people and place it serves.
Villaraigosa's energy, his winning enthusiasm and genuine warmth, his understanding of democratic inclusion and his proven ability to deliver on large-scale promises can reignite the aspirations of Angelenos and remake their future in a way his rival cannot match.
We heartily endorse a man who is of the people and for the people for election by the people: Antonio Villaraigosa will make a great Mayor of Los Angeles.