Promises continue one year after election |

Promises continue one year after election

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Most everybody seems to like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, even if his accomplishments a year after his election trail his sprinting ambition.

He wants to house the homeless. Revitalize downtown. Take over the school district. Get commuters to dump cars for subways and buses. And make a city infamous for sprawl and smog ever greener.

Wednesday marks the first anniversary of his watershed election as the city’s first Hispanic mayor in more than a century. And with it the inevitable question – can he deliver, or will he become another politician who reached too far?

Teachers are bucking his plan to run the schools, homeowners grumble about a pending jump in trash fees to pay for more police. Meanwhile, the budget is tight and unionized employees are clamoring for raises.

Undeterred, Villaraigosa has brought undeniable energy and visibility to an office recently known for a paucity of both. He has established himself as one of the nation’s most ubiquitous Latino politicians .

He walks the streets of downtown’s Skid Row, reads to school children in South Los Angeles, addresses Hollywood award shows and hundreds of thousands of marchers at an immigration rally. He’s been on the cover of Newsweek, and is sought out by likely Democratic candidates for president.

“You can never argue that this guy has not taken on big things.” said Raphael Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton.

“You can never argue that this guy has not taken on big things.”

For all the issues Villaraigosa, 53, has sought, some have come to him.

Immigration, a subject dominating national headlines, for one. The mayor has talked of those trapped in hardscrabble neighborhoods “who clean hotel rooms, who sweep the floors, who watch our children.” Indeed, he is closer to those immigrants than many other politicians.

And he won an important victory Tuesday when the City Council endorsed his plan to hire more police – as many as 1,000 over five years – by boosting the trash fee.

To win in the first place, Villaraigosa cast himself as the antidote to the lackluster James Hahn. It was a rematch of their 2001 campaign – the son of a Mexican immigrant against the son of an iconic Los Angeles politician – but also a race defined by the city’s changing demographics. Los Angeles has been a Hispanic-majority city for years, though Latino voters typically represent a much smaller share of the vote.

Easily elected after drawing votes across racial and geographic spectrums and sworn in July 1, Villaraigosa promised to upend the status quo, starting with dead-end schools from which tens of thousands of students fail to graduate each year. In was a natural issue for the former high-school dropout, who turned around his life after surviving the rough streets of East Los Angeles.

Better schools, he says, are the way to turn around communities where gangs are too many, decent homes and jobs too few.

“When he portrays this as a failing district, he’s misrepresenting the truth and that’s what politicians do,” said A.J. Duffy, president of the 48,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles. Villaraigosa’s plan to place a council of mayors in charge of the regional school system – the district includes Los Angeles and about two dozen smaller cities – would merely exchange one oversized bureaucracy for another, he said.

Villaraigosa is undaunted.

“We need to accelerate our ambitions,” he told supporters in a recent speech assessing the state of the city.

Villaraigosa may not be a household name nationwide, but he has star quality within Democratic circles and is frequently mentioned as a likely future candidate for governor. Potential 2008 presidential contenders are seeking his time and advice. Among them are former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and John Kerry of Massachusetts, whose 2004 campaign Villaraigosa co-chaired.

All the publicity can carry a risk: overexposure.

“Is there anything this man won’t do for a photo op, a radio interview or a TV news conference?” one reader wrote after The Daily News of Los Angeles ran a front-page photo of Villaraigosa, sheathed in surgical gloves, scrubbing the feet of a homeless man during the Easter holiday.

Some are impressed with Villaraigosa’s bulging portfolio of ideas, even if they have yet to come to fruition.

“We have to take it on with him,” said Cynthia Johnson, 58, a bank worker who voted for Hahn a year ago. On an issue close to home, he took care a familiar local annoyance, at least in her neighborhood.

“He promised to fix the potholes; he did,” she said. “That’s a big thing.”

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