Antonio Villaraigosa was born in East Los Angeles on January 23, 1953, to a Mexican immigrant father and a California-born mother of Mexican descent. His given name at birth was Antonio Villar. He was the eldest of four children and, by age five, found himself being raised by a single mother. At age 15, Villaraigosa volunteered for his first grape boycott led by civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez. Although briefly dropping out of high school, Villaraigosa responded to a pleading letter from his mother and returned to graduate from night school at Roosevelt High School. With the encouragement of teacher Herman Katz, Villaraigosa went on to pursue college and earned a bachelor's degree in history from UCLA and, in 1985, a law degree from People's College of Law (he never passed the bar). Villaraigosa worked his way up through Los Angeles labor circles to become a prominent organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles. After marrying Montebello school teacher Corina Raigosa in 1987, he and his new wife adopted their present last name Villaraigosa by combining his last name Villar with hers. In 1990,Villaraigosa was appointed to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Board and served there until 1994. In 1994, Villaraigosa was elected to the California State Assembly and, within his first term, was selected to serve as Democratic Assembly Whip and Assembly Majority Leader. In 1998, just four years after entering the Assembly, Villaraigosa was chosen by his colleagues to be the first Speaker of the Assembly from Los Angeles in 25 years. Villaraigosa left the Assembly in 2000 due to term limits and, in 2001, entered the fray to replace outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Villaraigosa was narrowly defeated in a run-off election by first-time opponent James Hahn. It was believed that Hahn's biting television commercials pointing out that Villaraigosa had written a letter to President Clinton (along with Cardinal Mahony and Sheriff Baca) asking for clemency for a convicted drug dealer contributed to the defeat. In 2003, Villaraigosa again was elected to public office to represent the 14th District seat on the Los Angeles City Council. He also served as national co-chairman of Democrat John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. In 2005, Villaraigosa again returned to campaign for mayor against Hahn and this time defeated the struggling incumbent. Villaraigosa assumed office on July 1, 2005, as 41st Mayor of the City of Los Angeles and the city's first Latino mayor since 1872.
Villaraigosa had been beset by a number of uncomplimentary events during his first term as mayor including his "we clean your toilets" speech at the 2006 immigration march in Los Angeles (he avoided the demonstration the following year by arranging to be out of the country, only to return home facing fallout from LAPD riot officers beating on reporters and demonstrators at MacArthur Park). In 2007, Villaraigosa was caught in yet another extramarital affair, this time with Spanish-language television newswoman Mirthala Salinas, prompting his wife to file for divorce for the second time and last time.