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Biography of Antonio Villaraigosa
41st Mayor of Los Angeles (2005-2013)

Antonio Villaraigosa - 41st Mayor of Los Angeles

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.

There was much excitement in 2005 when Villaraigosa was elected to office. He was the first Latino to be Mayor of Los Angeles in 133 years. The last Latino mayor, Cristobal Aguilar (10th Mayor of Los Angeles, 1866-1867 and 1870-1872), was credited with saving L.A.’s future “bacon” by successfully fighting off efforts to sell off the city’s water rights. It was hoped that this new Latino mayor would also successfully move the city forward. That promise, however, quickly blemished.

  • In a speech at a 2006 immigration march, Villaraigosa declared, “we clean your toilets!” Rather than coming across as stirring and enhancing his image as an inspirational leader, the declaration was widely derided. The following year, Villaraigosa avoided the demonstration by arranging to be out of the country. Yet, even that backfired when he returned to fallout from LAPD riot officers beating on reporters and demonstrators at the immigration demonstration in MacArthur Park.
  • In 2007, after 20 years of marriage, Villaraigosa’s wife, Corina, filed for divorce for the second and final time after learning of another of Villaraigosa’s affairs, this time with a local television reporter.
  • In 2008, LA Weekly published the article “The Eleven-Percent Mayor of Los Angeles.” The newspaper studied the mayor’s daily schedule over 10 weeks and determined that only 11 percent of his time was actually spent directly managing the city. The rest of his time was for out-of-town travel (34 percent), travel between local events (24 percent), blacked-out time (said to be fund-raising, personal, and “security-related” time (21 percent), and ceremonial and public relations time (10 percent).
  • In 2009, Villaraigosa was featured on the cover of Los Angeles Magazine with the caption “Failure.” The article maintained the mayor to often confuse campaigning with governing and that he was largely ineffective at implementing his stated policy goals.

  • Los Angeles Magazine Cover, June 2009

    Los Angeles Magazine cover, June 2009

  • In 2011, Villaraigosa agreed to a $42,000 ethics violation fine for failing to report free tickets to concerts and awards and sporting events. The fine was the largest ethics violation fine in California history at that time. Villaraigosa maintained that the violations were unintentional. A seasoned politician such as Villaraigosa, however, should have known better.
  • When Villaraigosa left office in 2013, it was reported that he had no car, no home, and no money. He seemed to exercise the philosophy of living for today only. He also lived a lifestyle at taxpayer expense that, according to some estimates, would have cost about $750,000 annually to maintain in private life, far above the reach of his $232,735 annual salary.

On the other hand, Villaraigosa was said to be willing to make difficult decisions as the city faced one of the worst economic crises in modern times. He made cuts to city finances and negotiated hard with city unions as revenues plummeted. He pushed hard for more police officers and crime plummeted. He fought for educational reform, transportation and redeveloping a dilapidated downtown. In July 2013, at Villaraigosa's exit from the office of Mayor of Los Angeles, a USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll found 47 percent of respondants viewed him favorably and 40 percent viewed him unfavorably. In his 2018 primary campaign for Governor of California, he was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times and received 22 percent of the primary vote in Los Angeles County (behind front-runner Gavin Newsom's 33 percent).

So, was Mayor Villaraigosa a bad mayor? See our note on Most Regrettable Mayors of Los Angeles.