Inside the Capitol

Thursday, May 19, 2005

5-25 Can You Say Villaraigosa?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE � Gov. Bill Richardson has some competition as a rising Hispanic star in the national Democratic Party. On May 17, Antonio Villaraigosa won election as mayor of Los Angeles.
Outwardly at least, our governor isn't treating the new mayor as a competitor. In fact, he sent state Democratic Party staffers to Los Angeles to help the campaign during its final weeks.
Richardson caught some flak for sending the help out of state but, he explained, that is not an uncommon practice. Members of Congress also sometimes find ways to do the same thing. The friendship between Richardson and Villaraigosa goes back awhile.
Four years ago Villaraigosa attracted national attention when he won the Los Angeles mayoral primary. He then lost a runoff election to another Democrat who put together a coalition of white and black voters. That's not surprising since Blacks and whites have fought over political power, just as they have fought over jobs.
Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city, has an ethnic mix of 47 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, 11 percent black and 10 percent Asian.
Despite the low percentage of blacks, Mayor Tom Bradley became the city's first black mayor in 1973 and served five terms. Just like Villaraigosa, Bradley had to run twice for mayor and had to beat the man who had beaten him the first time around.
Black and white Los Angeles residents have long been worried about the growing number of Hispanics in their city. It has prevented that segment of the population from ever gaining much political power. The last Hispanic mayor left office in 1873, when the population was less than 6,000.
Two years ago, Villaraigosa attended Gov. Bill Richardson's inaugural events in Santa Fe. It didn't receive mention in the media, but Villaraigosa was an honored guest.
After a childhood of growing up a tough kid, from a broken home, on the streets of East Los Angeles, Villaraigosa became what he calls a poster child for affirmative action. Despite being in and out of school as a teenager, he got into UCLA, based on potential, not merit, and graduated from law school.
Villaraigosa's rise in politics was meteoric. He won a seat in the California Assembly (similar to our House of Representatives.) in 1994, became majority floor leader in 1996 and speaker in 1998. Had he won the mayor's race in 2001, that meteoric rise would have been uninterrupted.
But at 52, Villaraigosa still has a long political career ahead of him, if he doesn't stumble. He is five years younger than Richardson, so has more time to wait for a spot on the national scene.
Like Richardson, Villaraigosa is a bundle of energy. He campaigned all night before the election, emphasizing that his opponent was home in bed. Richardson also pulled an all-nighter on election night and was at the KOAT-TV studios at 6:00 the next morning for an interview.
Richardson also had a fast, but interrupted, rise in politics. He was elected to Congress, on his second try, after only four years in New Mexico He labored 14 years in the U.S. House, where advancement is slow among 435 colleagues.
Early on, his wagon was hooked to Speaker Jim Wright of Texas. But Newt Gingrich took down Wright on an ethics charge, so Richardson had to start over.
Then Republicans took over the leadership in 1994 and Richardson became a member of the minority. But Richardson took a new route, becoming chummy with President Bill Clinton and serving on his cabinet
If he stays where he is, Villaraigosa has a chance at being mayor for a long time. Unlike Albuquerque, which has never elected a mayor for consecutive terms, Los Angeles has a history of returning mayors for about as long as they want.
In fact, the man Villaraigosa beat was the first mayor to be denied a second term since 1933. Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez needs to take some lessons.
WED, 5-25-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



Post a Comment

<< Home