The Education of a Mayor


By Ajay Singh

Published Jan 1, 2006 12:00 AM

1970's Westwood shaped his civic consciousness.

"UCLA was my first introduction to the diversity that's Los Angeles and to the world of books," he says--adding that he grew up in an area of East L.A. populated almost exclusively by minority groups, mostly Latinos.

"I was a high school dropout," the mayor points out. His first memory of campus was taking his longtime friend, California Senator Gilbert Cedillo '79, (D-Los Angeles) to Upward Bound classes there (the federal program that provides instruction to high school students from low income or first-generation families. "I'd go to the library and wait for him, usually for three or four hours, and I would read," he recalls. "When I got back into school, UCLA always seemed like the place I wanted to go."

"Someone opened the door for me. And I felt the responsibility to keep that door open for others."

Villaraigosa in City Hall, shortly after his victory.
The mayoral election energized Los Angeles and
propelled the politician into the national spotlight.

It was a turbulent time for the country, city and campus. And Villaraigosa's UCLA years were marked by activist politics. The passionate young Bruin from East L.A. led demonstrations almost daily. From protests against the Vietnam War to marches in support of ethnic studies and the rights of farm workers, Villaraigosa had his hands in everything. Not infrequently he took on the University. "They had begun to cut back on admissions to minorities and women, and I was one of those led the fight to change that."

"Do something to make people's lives a little better."

UCLA also "solidified a trend that (started) when I was about 15-of being involved in the community," says Villaraigosa. That in turn prepared him for a life in public service. He believes "Going to school with so many bright people and great teachers gave me a thirst for inquiry and knowledge that I'll keep with me for the rest of my life."

Villaraigosa applauds the university's ongoing and expanding involvement with the city through community group partnerships. "All of us want UCLA to not only be a leading institution of higher learning that happens to be in Los Angeles, but also a leading institution that sees as its destiny the growth and the future of Los Angeles."

"From City Terrace to City Hall, a short way but a vast distance."

The eldest of four children, Villaraigosa was born Antionio Villar in 1953. He grew up in a two-bedroom apartment in City Terrance, a low-income neighborhood in East L.A., with his parents and three sisters.



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