Born Antonio Ramon Villar, Jr. in January 1953 in Los Angeles County, Antonio Villaraigosa is the current mayor of Los Angeles, California.
Villaraigosa earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UCLA, where he served as a leader of the campus chapter of the radical Chicano student organization MEChA, a group he continues to support to this day.
After UCLA, Villaraigosa attended the People’s College of Law, a private, non-accredited “community-run law school.” He subsequently took the California Bar Exam four times, failing on each occasion.
He then found work as a labor organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles, and eventually became a California Assembly Member, the Assembly Speaker, and a Los Angeles City Councilman.
Villaraigosa also worked as an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union; he became President of both the Los Angeles chapter of the ACLU and a local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees.
At a 1996 Latino and Immigrant Rights rally in Washington, DC, Villaraigosa shared the stage with Augustine Cebeda, “Minister of Information” for the radical Latino group The Brown Berets of Aztlan. Cebeda was known for having stated, in the past: “Go back to Plymouth Rock, Pilgrims! Get out [of the U.S. Southwest]! We [Mexicans] are the future…. You old white people, it is your duty to die.”
An advocate of racial preferences and welfare benefits for illegal aliens, Villaraigosa said in 1997:
“Part of today’s reality has been propositions like 187 [to deny welfare benefits to California’s illegal aliens], propositions like 209 [to abolish racial preferences in California’s public sector], the welfare reform bill [of 1996], which targeted legal immigrants and targeted us as a community…. Today in California in the legislature, we’re engaged in a great debate, where not only were we talking about denying education to the children of undocumented workers, but now we’re talking about whether or not we should provide prenatal care to undocumented mothers. It’s not enough to elect Latino leadership. If they’re supporting legislation that denies the undocumented driver’s licenses, they don’t belong in office, friends…. If they can’t stand up and say, ‘You know what? I’m not ever going to support a policy that denies prenatal care to the children of undocumented mothers,’ they don’t belong here.”
Villaraigosa first ran, unsuccessfully, for the mayoralty of Los Angeles in 2001. During that campaign, he refused to renounce his former membership in MEChA, and even said he was proud to have been part of the group.
He won a second run for mayor four years later, aided by the endorsement of L.A. congresswoman Maxine Waters. When Villaraigosa was sworn into office in January 2005, Al Gore, to whose presidential campaign Villaraigosa had given $1,000 six years earlier, was in attendance.
In 2005 Villaraigosa was named one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Latinos in the U.S. He also has been featured on the cover of Newsweek, next to the headline: “Latino Power.”
At a 2005 convention of some 1,000 Democratic Party activists, Villaraigosa told those in attendance that when he looked around the room, he saw too many white faces, and that the Democrats would have to become more ethnically inclusive if they wanted to increase their influence politically.
Villaraigosa’s first act as L.A. mayor was to require all government employees under his jurisdiction to sign an ethics pledge. Meanwhile, rumors of Villaraigosa’s own marital infidelity had been circulating for years. In July 2007 he finally admitted to an affair with Mirthala Salinas, a television reporter for the Spanish-language network Telemundo. The affair constituted not only an ethical problem in the mayor’s personal life, but also a political conflict of interest in light of the fact that Salinas’ employer, NBC Universal, was campaigning for the authorization of a $3 billion development plan for which it needed Villaraigosa’s approval.
During a series of mass immigration rallies in the spring of 2007, Villaraigosa sided with the protesters who were demanding expanded rights and privileges for illegal aliens. At a May 1 rally in Los Angeles, unruly demonstrators hurled makeshift projectiles — including rocks, sticks, frozen water bottles, and bottles filled with urine — at police officers, who eventually were ordered to end the rally and to arrest anyone engaging in violence. In the process of trying to quell the mayhem, the police officers at the scene suffered more injuries than did the protesters. But three days later, Villaraigosa addressed another crowd of pro-immigration activists at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, telling them, in Spanish, that he condemned the manner in which the L.A.P.D. had dealt with the May 1 situation, and he accused the officers of having broken up the rally without cause.
Committed to the belief that “global warming” is caused by human industrial activity, Villaraigosa has committed to reducing Los Angeles’ carbon emissions 35 percent by the year 2030.
Villaraigosa is a great admirer of Jose Angel Gutierrez, co-founder of the Mexican American Youth Organization. He is also a close friend of Mario Obledo, founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.