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"When I was on the MTA board we eliminated graffiti on the buses by getting everyone involved," he replies.
Between doors, Villaraigosa says he has a surprise in store for people who think running for council would seem a comedown for a former Assembly speaker.
"The City Council is where things get done in the community," he says. "And I've shown I know how to get things done. But I don't believe a council member is just a person that ensures that services have been delivered. I think a council member should be a leader as well. Someone who can help create that vision for improving the quality of life in the neighborhood. Someone with the energy and the skill set to organize a community, build consensus about what the future should look like."
He talks about after-school programs and their importance in giving youth a positive direction. He talks about crime and how to combat it. More police officers, more opportunity for youth.
"I'm committing that in my term we're going to have an after-school program in every school," he says at another door. "If you think everything is as good as it can be in the community, then maybe I'm not the candidate for you. But I think we can do better. Together we can do better. What a leader can do is inspire all of you to do a little more."
At the next door a woman who looks to be in her 60s opens her screen door and says she recognizes him.
"Oh, sure, of course, Antonio," the woman says. "It's been great. We've got the street cleaned up and everything's looking so nice. We're behind you, Councilman."
Nonplused, Villaraigosa talks about himself and his accomplishments as Assembly speaker, asks about crime on the street, says goodbye and walks back down the steps. He marks the woman as a "maybe."
Pacheco: A pothole-filler
proud of his roots
(Photo by Gregory Bojorquez)
"She had him mixed up with Nick," Corina says, referring to incumbent Councilman Nick Pacheco, Villaraigosa's opponent. "That happens. We were out to dinner the other night, and a woman came up to Antonio and said, 'Hi, Councilman, good to see you.' And she called me Liberty" — the name of a Pacheco staffer.
Across the street, resident Rebecca Villa counsels Villaraigosa to "keep it clean."
"It's going to be clean," he responds. "I ran a clean campaign in the mayor's race."
Villa mentions something about the Torres mailers, although she never actually saw either of them. They will backfire on Pacheco, she says. "You know he's out because of that language," Villa says. "We're all watching. If we re-elect him after that, we're no better than that."
It is not the first low blow he has faced. When he ran for Assembly, opponents dug up a 1977 assault arrest, failing to mention in mailers that he was defending his mother or that the jury failed to convict him. The turning point in his 2001 mayoral campaign against James Hahn was the notorious but effective television ad that showed Villaraigosa in the same frame as a smoking crack pipe.
Supporters see the mailer sent out in November by Torres as being in the same tradition, although slimier.
"I'll tell you this," Villaraigosa says, repeating words he said he told 13-year-old Antonio Jr. "I think the best way to fight back is to distinguish myself. They started out this campaign in a very ugly way. They exhibited the worst sort of political machinations that I've seen in a long time. And I fully expect that we'll see more. But hope usually trumps fear."
A CROWD IS BEGINNING TO GATHER in the upstairs Soto Avenue suite that serves as one of two Re-Elect Pacheco headquarters. It is early December, and Nick Pacheco, baby-faced but with gray streaks in his black hair, young-looking but sporting a bit of a paunch, has just concluded an upbeat campaign kickoff in Eagle Rock, hosted by Congressman Xavier Becerra. In a few minutes, City Council President Alex Padilla will appear and do similar duties here in Boyle Heights.
But first Pacheco needs to grab a bite. A succession of women who look to be his mother's age push plates of food toward him.
"Here, mijo, you need your strength," two say simultaneously. Others try to get his attention.
"Hi, son, how are you?" Victoria Torres calls to him.
Torres explains that she has called Pacheco "son" for upward of 25 years.
"He's done a lot for us," Torres says. "He's one of us. Nick is already familiar with the community and should be re-elected. I haven't seen Antonio Villaraigosa out in the community."
Others are even more passionate.
"Nick has been a real hero to me," 54-year-old Manny Hernandez says in Eagle Rock. "I have had four heroes. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, my father. And Nick Pacheco. Because when you look at the work that this young man has done, we haven't ever had representation before that is this outstanding."
The daughter of Hernandez's partner was killed by a car at a Highland Park crossing on Figueroa at Burwood. Others had died there before and had begged Councilman Richard Alatorre to put up a signal. No signal came.