A setback for Villaraigosa‘s dream of a united city This was not to be a repeat of that triumphant April night when Antonio Villaraigosa stood before thousands of supporters who had packed into Union Station to celebrate his ascension to the runoff. On this night, on a blocked-off section of a jacaranda-lined street just west of downtown, the faithful gathered out of solidarity, to marvel at how close they’d come, and to see if maybe, just maybe, they could spite all those pre-election polls and pull it off.

Early on in the evening, before hope fell to reality, Bishop E. Lynn Brown rallied the crowd with strong words: ”We‘re gonna bury our opponent so deep it’s gonna take a billion pounds of baking powder to raise him from the dead.“

Maybe in four years.

The hundreds of union workers who arrived en masse around 9 p.m. banging bongos, blowing whistles and chanting, ”Si, se puede,“ could not stanch the current of concern running through the crowd. The candidate himself put it most succinctly when, just after 10 p.m., he emerged from a backroom huddle for a quick photo opportunity. He pressed his palms together in a prayerlike gesture and looked skyward. ”It‘s gonna be very close,“ he croaked in a voice run ragged by campaigning 42 of the last 48 hours.

Still, not a hair on Villaraigosa’s silver-flecked head was out of place, and he was perfectly turned out in his standard dark suit, red tie and white shirt. Only the tiny American flag pin that frequently graced his lapel was absent. Perhaps intentionally, his sole adornment was his gold wedding band — on this night, family was to emerge as a recurring theme.

Villaraigosa‘s soap-opera-like marital troubles had been well-documented, and his wife’s presence was barely noticeable at the April victory party. Tonight, though, Corina Villaraigosa stood by her man. ”Thank you for the love and support you have given to my family,“ she said to the cheering crowd, her voice cracking. Then, speaking to her husband, she went on. ”I want to tell you how proud I am of you,“ she said. ”I want to tell you how proud you have made your family and everyone here.“

When Villaraigosa took the mike, he thanked Richard Riordan and Gray Davis and high-fived labor leader Miguel Contreras. But he saved his highest praise for his wife. ”What a great first lady,“ he said. ”Is she a class act or what?“

Back in the VIP lounge, the candidate, who had made about 40 campaign stops over the last two days — kicked into overdrive, embracing, patting and backslapping out of what appeared to be sheer momentum, and, perhaps, the simple joy of it. It was here, one-on-one among those who had loved and supported him, that he was at his best. Peeled down to his shirtsleeves, he spoke with his entire being, focusing his attention fully, miming as he spoke, bending and flexing and grasping and poking at the air.

Slightly apart from the crowd, surveying the scene with a bemused expression, sat a limousine driver who goes by the name of Mr. W. He was keeping an eye on his boss, Bishop Brown, and refused to divulge his choice for mayor. ”I can‘t tell you,“ he said. ”I can’t, you understand.“ But he did allow that ”Most of the people from around Watts, where I grew up, favor Hahn. Some of them, and this is not me saying this, but some of them do feel a concern about what would happen if a Latino got elected. Me, I‘m with whoever make the people more better than what it is.“

By midnight, the performer onstage was singing ”I Will Survive,“ and it was clear that, short of a miracle, the race was over. ”Antonio needs a break,“ said one volunteer dejectedly. ”He needs about 40,000 votes out of the ozone.“

Half an hour later, when the miracle did not come, Villaraigosa took the stage and conceded. He again thanked his family, rattled off the names of a dozen or more supporters and signed off. ”I have no tears here,“ he said. ”I got no tears because I put every effort, every ounce of my being over the last two years, into this. I love you, Los Angeles.“

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