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52. Failure?

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It should have ended better than it has. The election of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2005 should have been more heroic "? a reconquista of the city's ignored mestizo soul and a declaration of the city's greater American purpose. To be the northernmost capitol of the tropics. To be the mid-point between East and West. To be the city where California advanced the reconciliation of its vast unease with race.

Instead, days before his second term begins, after four unheroic years, the mayor (who would be governor) is being called a failure.

Ed Leibowitz, writing in the month's edition of Los Angeles, laments, "We are bitter because you promised us so much. You were not only our first Latino mayor in 137 years but arguably the most charismatic leader in memory to step onto L.A.'s bland political stage. You had charm, poise, and vigor, and you spoke in cadences that reconciled reason and compassion."

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Brian Doherty at City of Angles is even bleaker: "L.A.'s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may have won his second term mere months ago, but it's probable that his political future is over." Former Los Angeles Daily News editor Ron Kaye blogs at Calbuzz, "It's a pity, a waste of a talent that could have brought the people of LA together to do great things, create a great city. Many now dismiss the mayor as a man without substance, a narcissist driven by his ego and need for self-aggrandizement."

Others commentators strongly disagree. Peter Dreier, a professor of politics and director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College, objects that the partial successes of the mayor's first term reflect civic projects that will take decades to complete. And the apparent failures aren't all his, but are the results of fiscal chaos in Sacramento and an anti-city bias in the Bush administration. "In his first four years," Dreier argues, "Villaraigosa has accomplished a great deal, made some mistakes, and erected a foundation for further progress in his second term."

And I am reminded of four years ago, when Villaraigosa successfully portrayed incumbent Mayor James Hahn as a colorless bureaucrat, empty of ideas and out of touch. Villaraigosa was right. Hahn represented a politics that is headed for the ash head of local history. But being right did not mean that Villaraigosa possessed the capacity to bring the new politics of the city to life.

Los Angeles as a political institution had changed irrevocably since the passage of a reform city charter in 1999. Neither man knew what that meant in 2005 or what he might do as mayor because it. Mayor Villaraigosa still does not in 2009.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user Stewart James. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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