The Education of a Mayor


By Ajay Singh

Published Jan 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Villaraigosa as a graduate
of Roosevelt High School in
Boyle Heights—one of
just 26% of the kids who
didn't drop out that year.

His father left home and remarried when his son was 5 years old. Years later, Viillaraigosa discovered that his father had had another son whom he named Antonio. Feeling rejected, he combined his surname with that of his wife after marrying schoolteacher Corina Raigosa in 1987. "Villar" became "Villariaigosa."

It was his mother, Natalia Delgado, who held the family together. Tough and enterprising, she gave her four children hope and a strong work ethic. But growing up without a father made Antonio rebellious. He got into fights, got a "Born to Raise Hell" tattoo, got kicked out of one school and dropped out of another. But thanks to his mother's support and some timely mentoring from an English teacher who recognized his intelligence and drive, he finished high school and attended East Los Angeles Community College before transferring to UCLA in 1972.

Politician, fundraiser, coalition builder, uniter.

But Villaraigosa struggled at UCLA, too. "He had to work hard to do well," recalls Raymond Paredes, a retired English professor at UCLA who taught the future mayor Chicano literature.

After graduating from UCLA with a history degree in 1977, Villaraigosa attended People's College of Law, a low-tuition L.A. night school where he assisted immigrants, workers and tenants who had legal difficulties. In 1994, a year after serving as president of the ACLU of Southern California, he was elected to the state assembly. Just four years later, he became speaker of assembly speaker, one of the three most powerful positions in state government.

Full speed ahead

Given California's budget woes, can the mayor realistically hope to place an extra 1,600 police officers on L.A.'s streets, as he has promised? Can he improve public schools when he cannot legally assert direct control over them?

"The risky but exciting thing about this mayor is that people will have a lot of expectations from him on everything from neighborhood issues to business," says Ralph Sonenshein, a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton, who has written extensively about L.A.'s mayors. "They're going to keep an energetic mayor on the run."

This story was edited for easier on-line reading. It is shorter than the print version and includes additional sub-heads.



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