Antonio’s Takeover

Photo by Ted Soqui

Not much doubt by the start of business this week who was in charge of City Hall. But just in case anyone missed the inaugural events that launched the Fourth of July weekend with ceremonies and parties for Antonio Villaraigosa, the new mayor strode into the City Council chamber Tuesday to call on his former colleagues to pass a slew of ethics reforms that had been sitting in committee for more than a year. And they passed them, with alacrity. Then Villaraigosa gave his first Mayor’s Office news conference, introduced his new lawyer, and invited the reporters to watch him sign his first executive directive — also on ethics. It was a sign that if the mayor is going to tire from the vigorous pace he set on the eve of his May 17 election victory, it’s not going to happen just yet. He spent the long holiday weekend in City Hall meetings, visiting police and fire stations and, for good measure, speaking before the National Education Association. He received two warm and sustained standing ovations on Saturday at the inauguration of Councilman Bill Rosendahl between the boardwalk and the sand at Venice Beach, once when being introduced and once when reminding the crowd that he supports Rosendahl’s plan for a regional approach to airports — a nod to Rosendahl’s Westchester and Playa del Rey constituents who were among the fiercest critics of a modernization plan at Los Angeles International Airport. Rosendahl’s own brand of buoyancy was a perfect match for Venice on Saturday, where Hawaiian-shirted City Council members mingled near the sand with business-suited city officials. “Great, great, great, great, great . . .,” he exulted, after exchanging handshakes and hugs with pretty much everyone. The ceremonies were just as festive, if more reserved, on Friday at Villaraigosa’s own inauguration. “Angelenos, we need to start thinking big again, and facing up to our biggest challenges,” Villaraigosa said to several thousand dignitaries and well-wishers. “I intend to be a mayor who confronts those challenges.” The new mayor, who by now is well-known to people in Los Angeles and around the world as the first Latino mayor here since the 19th century, devoted several lines in Spanish to praising the United States as a nation of opportunity and freedom. In what other country, he asked, could he appear before such a crowd as mayor of a great city. “I will never forget where I came from,” he said, returning to English. “It may be a short way from City Terrace to City Hall, but fellow Angelenos, we all know what a vast distance it truly is. It’s a distance that can’t be measured in miles or calculated in terms of the achievements of any one person.” Villaraigosa repeated his key pledges from the campaign, in which he defeated James K. Hahn for re-election: fight crime and violence with more police officers; improve schools; fix traffic. His most provocative remarks were reserved for the schools issue, one he warmed to slowly in the campaign but made his own after the primary defeat of Bob Hertzberg, the former Assembly speaker who launched his campaign with a pledge to break up the school district. The mayor of Los Angeles has no authority over the school district, which includes other cities. But during the campaign, Hertzberg, and later Villaraigosa, said the mayor is uniquely situated to drive change in the district.

“I’m a proud progressive,” Villaraigosa said in his inauguration speech. “But it’s time for those of us who call ourselves ‘progressive’ to do more than just defend existing government programs. We need to be passionate advocates for change.”

He said he planned to create a Council of Education Advisors to draft a proposal for improving the school district. And in a statement that recaptured the Antonio Villaraigosa that was largely missing from this year’s campaign but shaped his 2001 mayoral bid, Villaraigosa paid tribute to the Labor cornerstone of the new Los Angeles.

“We see them in the faces of people who sweep the floors and load the freight,” he said. “We see them in South Los Angeles and East L.A. and in the Valley and at the beaches. And even though we live in the entertainment capital of the world, it’s not hard to see who the real stars are.”

Earlier, Villaraigosa was the central figure in an interfaith service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels that featured prayers, chants and songs by religious leaders representing the Gabrieleno-Tongva tribe as well as Muslim, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Buddhist and Hindu organizations and congregations. Then Villaraigosa and his family took part in a procession down Temple Street several blocks to City Hall for the inauguration. Inside the City Council chambers, the 13 members of the council re-elected Alex Padilla as their president and elected Wendy Greuel as president pro tempore. The position of assistant president pro tempore was created two years ago for Eric Garcetti, and is an appointive post. Garcetti had been considering a challenge to Padilla for the presidency but changed his mind.

Mayoral politics suffused the selection. Padilla is a former Hahn supporter who switched to Villaraigosa during the latest campaign. Greuel remained neutral throughout. Garcetti stuck with Hahn. But Padilla is likely to declare his candidacy soon for a state Senate post, leaving the City Council leadership in some turmoil.

It was the first council action for Rosendahl, who was elected in May to succeed the termed-out Cindy Miscikowski. Two council seats are empty. Villaraigosa vacated his seat to become mayor, and Martin Ludlow left his to become leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. The final vote for that job takes place later this month. A November election has been set to fill the two council seats. Politics of more statewide and even nationwide dimensions held sway outside, on the ceremonial south steps of City Hall. Re-elected City Controller Laura Chick chose former governor and now Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown to administer her oath. They were followed by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher giving the oath to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo — who is due to face off against Brown next year for state attorney general. The mayor’s oath was administered by 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who remembered mispronouncing “Villaraigosa” when he first gave the oath to then–Assemblyman Villaraigosa more than a decade ago. Today, the judge said, everyone knows how to pronounce the name. The crowd delivered a lusty round of boos when Villaraigosa introduced Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The new mayor responded sternly. “We will have civility today,” he said. For the most part, though, there was far more than civility, with enthusiastic throngs cheering the new mayor and partying hard on closed-off Main Street as the opening salvo to the long Fourth of July weekend. The good feelings spilled over into the new week. The new mayor’s enjoying his political honeymoon, but there was a palpable feeling, for now, that the rest of the city recognizes that it’s their honeymoon too.

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