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May 2005 - Antonio Villaraigosa Elected; L.A.'s First Latino Mayor in Modern Times

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Antonio Villaraigosa
Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles mayor from 2005 to 2013, speaks at a March 2011 press conference on his signing of the city's bicycle plan. | Photo: Conor Collins Photography

On May 17, 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa, an L.A. city councilmember representing the 14th district, defeated incumbent Mayor James Hahn and became the first person of Latino descent to be elected mayor of Los Angeles since Cristobal Aguilar in 1870.

But while Mayor Aguilar was at the helm of a dusty village of some 5,700 residents, Mayor Villaraigosa led a large, diverse metropolis nearly 700 times larger, with Latinos comprising 48 percent of its residents.

Born and raised in L.A.'s Eastside as Antonio Villar, he attended East L.A. College and UCLA and studied at People's College of Law before becoming a union organizer with United Teachers Los Angeles. He was also president of the ACLU's L.A. chapter and also led the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees labor union.

In 1987, Villar married Corina Raigosa, and both adopted the portmanteau of "Villaraigosa" as their new mutual family name.

Henceforth known as Antonio Villaraigosa, he was elected to the California State Assembly in 1994 and ascended to Speaker of the Assembly four years later, serving until 2000. He initially ran for Los Angeles mayor in 2001 but lost to City Attorney James Hahn. Villaraigosa resurfaced two years later, garnering a seat on the L.A. City Council.

Following his election, Villaraigosa was featured in a cover article in Newsweek magazine, titled, "Latino Power," and was part of a wave of Latinos nationwide who gained local and state offices in the 2000s. Locally, his election inspired a new generation of Latino elected officials to municipal and state offices.

In 2007, Villaraigosa acknowledged having an extramarital affair with Telemundo reporter Mirthala Salinas, which subsequently led to Corina ending their 20-year marriage. The mayor also faced other controversies such as ethics violations and charges of nepotism which benefitted some of his family members. A 2008 L.A. Weekly article also revealed that Villaraigosa only spent 11 percent of his time on official city business. Despite all that, and without any major opposition running against him, he handily won re-election in 2009.

Villaraigosa also led the city during a period marked by serious budget shortfalls and cuts to various city services, due in part to the Great Recession. But it was also revealed that a large percentage of the city's coffers went to finance the pension system of civic employees. Villaraigosa also attempted to attain more city control of the L.A. Unified School District, an effort that earned him failing grades with both the teacher's union and the school board.

Conversely, Mayor Villaraigosa's biggest accomplishments lay in improving the region's transportation infrastructure. Dubbed "The Subway Mayor" in a 2005 L.A. Weekly cover story, Villaraigosa oversaw the opening of the Metro Orange Line, L.A.'s first bus rapid transit route, an extension of the Metro Gold Line light rail route to the Eastside, and the long-awaited Metro Expo Line from downtown L.A. to Culver City. He successfully lobbied voter support for Measure R, a 2008 ballot measure that increased L.A. county's sales tax an additional half-cent to fund transportation projects like his much-touted "Subway To The Sea," a westward extension of the Metro Purple Line subway towards Santa Monica. In 2010, he also successfully pushed for a bridge loan from the U.S. Congress that would fast-track a number of proposed transit projects which could have otherwise taken decades more to build.

In the summer of 2010, Villaraigosa injured his arm as a result of being struck by a taxicab while riding his bicycle along Venice Boulevard. As a result, the mayor soon became the city's biggest bike safety proponent, successfully implementing a three-foot passing law to help stem motor vehicle-bike incursions. His office also helped to make the car-free event known as CicLAvia a reality, and he signed a newly-updated bicycle plan in March of 2011 which implemented several miles of bicycle infrastructure in Los Angeles.

On the roads, Villaraigosa also oversaw the citywide implementation of traffic signal synchronization on major streets, which aided in peak-hour traffic flow. And in July 2011, when Caltrans shut down a 9-mile segment of the 405 freeway in the Sepulveda Pass in a construction event known as "Carmageddon," adequate planning and public awareness turned a potential traffic nightmare into a free-flowing freeway fantasy.

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