A Night for Mama

Photo by Ted SoquiConditioned by his early-morning wind sprints in the hills near his Mount Washington home, Antonio Villaraigosa blew through the finish line with plenty left in his tank. Around midnight he could hardly restrain himself, boogieing to McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” his wife Corina by his side practically blushing at his exuberance. “I know what my mother, Natalia, would say if she was here,” Villaraigosa said of his main inspiration in life, a child of immigrants who overcame an abusive marriage to raise four children, and who died in 1991. “She’d say, ‘Antonio, don’t declare victory, declare your purpose.’ ” What a difference from four years ago, when defeat at the hands of Jim Hahn sent him packing, but first to the hospital for back and throat surgery — only to finally redeem himself “on the shoulders of Tom Bradley,” L.A.’s last great mayor. The landslide victory washed over the crowd of thousands under the stars at the L.A. Studio Center at Fourth and Boylston streets, beneath the downtown skyline, as the incoming mayor promised to work his heart out every single day for all Angelenos, “whether they live on the Eastside or the Westside, in South L.A. or in Sylmar; whether they drive a fancy car or ride the bus; whether they pray in a synagogue, a cathedral or a mosque.” From the crowd, a good-natured heckler replied, “Keep your word. Just keep your word.” Moments before, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, Councilman Jack Weiss, Controller Laura Chick and former Laker Magic Johnson had called for a fresh start. Chick urged a rejection of the “politics of division.” Actor, director and Democratic Party fund-raiser Rob Reiner worked the crowd like a candidate. Gospel and mariachi bands alternated on the bandstand, downwind from Asian, Latino and Italian food vendors. Bringing people together is what Antonio is all about. “Do I have to tell the truth?” said Christine Senteno, a UCLA fellow at the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, when asked what she liked best about Villaraigosa. “He’s so good looking,” she said practically in unison with her friend Sarah Bradshaw, chief of staff to school-board member David Tokofsky. “And that’s coming from a lesbian,” Bradshaw added. Nearby, Villaraigosa’s son, Antonio Jr., looked out over the crowd, wide-eyed and proud in his blue suit, a campaign badge around his neck. Roderick Pinkney, 45, of Baldwin Hills, stood next to his father, Steve, a retired district director of the L.A. County Environmental Health Department from Leimert Park. “I like what Antonio represents,” said the younger Pinkney. “I wish there was less negativity between the candidates,” said his father of the nastiness Hahn and Villaraigosa inflicted on each other. In town from Washington, D.C., where she consults with law schools to get students working in the nonprofit sector, former USC Law School dean of students Karen Lash said she didn’t vote, but made the trip to tend to some unfinished business. “I worked my ass off for Antonio four years ago.” An early edition of the San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce’s newspaper declaring “Villaraigosa Wins” circulated through the crowd, as Silver Lake resident Mitchell Eisenberg also recalled working hard for the campaign four years ago. His friend Jean Torre, a retired substitute teacher, has been a Villaraigosa fan even longer — 20 years — ever since she was represented by the former leader of the United Teachers of Los Angeles at a grievance hearing. “He was very understanding,” Torre said. Pronouncements of a “candidacy of hope” and “a wind of change” echoed in the night. United Farm Workers founder Dolores Huerta gave Villaraigosa her blessing. Omah Kirby, 23, who is in sales, remarked, “It’s a good evening. It’s nice. Everyone is out here to enjoy themselves . . . How long do you get to be mayor?” His companion Paola, 20, a student at Los Angeles City College majoring in labor studies, sized up the victory: “The local unions went for Hahn, the members voted for Antonio. That’s a known fact.” U2’s “Beautiful Day” blared over the PA system, and the incoming mayor shared another remembrance of his mother, probably not the last one Angelenos will hear: “This was her favorite saying: ‘It’s a beautiful day, Los Angeles'.”

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