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Victory for Villaraigosa in...
"Tough on crime" election in LA

By Randy Childs | May 27, 2005 | Page 2

THE LANDSLIDE victory of Antonio Villaraigosa over incumbent James Hahn in last week's Los Angeles mayoral election has been seen as a cause for hope by many progressives, in LA and around the country.

Amazingly, Villaraigosa will be LA's first Latino mayor since 1872. He is a former union organizer for United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) who emphasized his roots in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of East Los Angeles. Despite this, Villaraigosa's victory is no reason to celebrate.

Both Villaraigosa and Hahn are Democrats, so there was no threat of a Republican victory in the runoff election. Yet neither Hahn nor Villaraigosa went back to the Democratic Party's "liberal roots."

Instead they spent most of the campaign fighting over who was more "tough on crime." Hahn ran television ads attacking Villaraigosa for voting "no" on a California Assembly bill that would have mandated a life sentence for anyone convicted of murdering a minor.

Villaraigosa fired back at Hahn for promising to hire more police, but not hiring enough. "Most major metropolitan areas like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia have about twice as many police officers per person as we do," Villaraigosa claimed on his campaign Web site. "I have a plan that begins by putting 300 new officers on our streets now, followed by an additional 1,300 officers within five years."

The election came down to a choice between Hahn, a classic machine Democrat like Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago, or Villaraigosa, who is more of a Clinton Democrat--someone who will make progressive promises, but support the same conservative policies.

Villaraigosa talked about the need to lower class sizes during the campaign. But he also proposed that the mayor control the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)--similar to the control Daley has in Chicago and Republican Michael Bloomberg has in New York. Mayoral control strips the public of its right to elect their local school board, and in other cities, it has led to privatization and school closures, as well as attacks on teachers' union rights.

In an interview with the LA Weekly, Villaraigosa, the former union organizer, bragged about intervening to stop the 2003 LA transit strike: "I told Jim [Hahn], 'Jim, they're going on strike, we're going to have gridlock. We can't let this happen.'...I had to take over the meeting. I used some profanity, and was kind of colorful in my negotiations. I just had to sit everybody down and say, 'We can't go out on strike.'"

Villaraigosa is a rising star in the national Democratic Party. He was a national co-chair of the party's platform committee and John Kerry's presidential campaign. Thus, he bears some responsibility for Kerry's failed campaign strategy of arguing that he would do a better job of running the "war on terror" than George Bush. During the campaign, Kerry also supported a proposal for merit pay for teachers similar to the one put forward by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger--one of the reasons that members of the UTLA and other unions are mobilizing to protest against Schwarzenegger May 25.

Anyone who starts breathing easier because the new mayor says he's "one of us" will be in for a rude awakening.

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