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by Amber Diem (LaSolidarity.net Author)
Friday, May. 27, 2005 at 11:04 AM
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Antonio Villaraigosa has won the election, but can he fix all of our problems? Villaraigosa is indeed progressive, and is also a step in the correct direction.
antonio_villaraigosa_small.jpg, image/jpeg, 100x119
May 17th began Los Angeles’s long battle against the right wing administration’s control of the highly racially and economically diverse city and surrounding counties. Incumbent mayor James Hahn will finally step down from office on July 1, and the first progressive in the history of Los Angeles will take over as our mayor. Antonio Villaraigosa will also be the first Latino mayor since 1872.
It is no surprise to people living away from L.A. that someone like Villaraigosa can easy win a landslide victory of 59 to 41. But here at home we know that the governments of Los Angeles and surrounding counties have illegitimately controlled by an array of conservative politicians at all city levels. James Hahn called himself a democrat but acted and worked with many conservatives, thus diminishing his loyalty to the people of Los Angeles. This is a continual problem within the Democratic Party. Hahn has been accused of being a political “chameleon”, moving between both sides. He has been said to be, in spirit, a republican, as seen in this mayoral election. He spent a great deal of time trying to sway moderate and conservative voters.
Maybe it was time for a change. A good change it will be, Villaraigosa knows first hand what it is like to grow up in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood. He dropped out of high school, but later completed his diploma and went on to graduate from law school. He was a first-generation college student and law student. Despite this, he passed the California Bar on his fifth try, not unusual for first generation law students, and a testament to his fortitude. He had an unsettled young adulthood.
Villaraigosa was once a labor organizer. Now why would Villaraigosa, a wide-eyed left wing progressive, be good for a city like ours? Unlike Hahn, Villaraigosa actually wishes to help schools and improve teacher pay to attract the best. He knows first hand. His wife is a teacher in the L.A. district, who gives him first hand accounts of the struggles of students and teachers.
Now what about that major problem we still have with racial groups? Oh yes, racism. Still exists, especially in as diverse city like LA. Hahn had four years to at least attempt to help, but failed miserably. Villaraigosa actually sees this as a problem, rather than ignoring it and saying it will straighten itself out. Antonio knows first hand what its like growing up in some of the worst neighborhoods, rather than Hahn, growing up rich. Villaraigosa saw the traffic problems, the violence, the gang wars, drugs, and dropouts, homeless. Villaraigosa himself dropped out of high school, but then went back, got a degree and took a teacher’s advice and went to UCLA for more schooling. He saw how people lived and how their struggles to survive. This is the type of person who will at least stand up and say, “Hey, there’s a problem and we need to fix it”.
This goes without saying, however, that we must further pressure Villaraigosa and anyone else who might stand before us in the coming years. This election has demonstrated that Los Angeles is ready for a political and social transition. The transition must be achieved, and the power ought to reside in the hands of Los Angeles citizens, rather than Villaraigosa—or any other single man or woman. Villaraigosa is definitely a step in the correct direction, but he will surely not solve all of our problems. The defunct Los Angeles government can hardly sustain itself at this point, and it will take more than one person to change that for the better. The simple fact is that Villaraigosa is still part of the system itself. Sure, he has demonstrated that he has far more heart than Hahn, or other hard-line reactionaries. But we must keep our eyes on the horizon, and never lose sight of what is ours. Villaraigosa will surely do some short-term good, but he really is a springboard for the movement.
Eventually, if we use Villaraigosa as a step, the current Los Angeles government will bow down to a truly democratic system—one that will put power into the hands of the people. One that will allow neighborhoods to rule themselves, workers to own what they produce, and many other changes that must happen in order to achieve social, economic, and political justice.
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