The Education of a Mayor


By Ajay Singh

Published Jan 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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What fuels the passionate, political, perpetual-motion machine that is Antonio Villaraigosa? One of the early sparks, say L.A.'s first Latino mayor in 133 years, was UCLA.

Barely a day after Los Angeles elected Antonio Villaraigosa as its first Latino mayor in 133 years, a San Fernando Valley public school was set to welcome the peripatetic 52-year-old son of the city. But fights erupted among students early that morning, and school authorities locked the campus as rumors spread that the flare-ups were racially motivated.

The mayor was advised to cancel his visit. He insisted on going – and told a crowd of irate parents and reporters gathered at the scene that he would have “zero tolerance” for racial violence.

"I'm not going to be a mayor who hides under a rock," says 52-year-old Antonio Villaraigosa. If there's an issue, he's on it. A forum, he'll use it. A microphone, he'll take it.

Villaraigosa rushed to Chatsworth during the El Nino-fed wildfires last fall. Made the covers of both Time and Newsweek. Got the nod as Grand Marshall of the Hollywood Christmas Parade. And when he read about downtown L.A.'s despair-filled Skid Row, the mayor wasted no time checking it out himself to see what he could do.

Certainly, Villaraigosa is a refreshing change for a city that's rarely been led by the kind of populist action heroes places like New York put in office. What transformed a cocky barrio kid into the standard bearer for 21st Century activist, progressive politics? "The answer, to a significant degree, is UCLA," says Villaraigosa, '77.



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