Picture a crack-cocaine pipe being held up to a flame, followed by a grainy image of Antonio Villaraigosa. Nowpicture leaflets accusing the former labor organizer of “child pornography” and “sex crimes,” paid for by NativeAmerican-owned casinos where Villaraigosa has backed the rights of workers to form a union. If you can picture this,then you get a sense of the challenge Antonio Villaraigosa poses to political tradition in the nation’s secondlargest city.
Meanwhile his opponent, City Attorney James Hahn, has largely disappeared from public view as one of the mostfiercely contested Mayoral elections in decades draws to a close.
Antonio Villaraigosa is an immigrant’s son and former labor activist with strong roots in Los Angeles’ organizingcommunity. He is the former speaker of the California State Assembly. Villaraigosa’s progressive ties haveenergized an unprecedented multi-ethnic coalition of labor and community organizations, while his work in the stateassembly has garnered the support of more moderate political forces and some of Los Angeles’ wealthiest citizens. Ifelected, he would be the city’s first Latino mayor in 130 years.
Villaraigosa’s opponent, James Hahn, is a long time city attorney whose father served for 40 years on the countyboard of supervisors in LA and whose legendary patronage forged a strong following in the city’s African Americancommunity. Polls indicate that Hahn has the support of about 70% of the city’s African American residents, includingprogressive Congressperson Maxine Waters.
While both are considered liberal democrats, it is Hahn that has attracted the majority of the city’s moreconservative voters, although according to his critics through ads that highlight race and a lingering public biasagainst Latinos.
LA’s mayoral election is still considered too close to call, but the rise of Villaraigosa and the broad support hehas won marks a profound shift in the political landscape of a city that is now nearly half Hispanic and increasinglya bellwether for progressive politics around the country.
- Genethia Hayes, Chair of the Los Angeles School Board, former executive director of SCLC SouthernChristian Leadership Council.
- Cynthia Rojas, organizer for the Bus Riders Union and the Labor Community Strategy Center.
- Luis Sanchez, organizer for Youth Organizing Communities.