L.A. elects Latino Mayor

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

LA skyline
LA skyline

Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa was swept to victory in Los Angeles on Tuesday, winning nearly 60% of the vote to defeat incumbent James Hahn. Becoming the first Latino mayor in 133 years, the historic election was marked by an anticipated low voter turnout of 30%.

By capitalizing on voter discontent, Villaraigosa was able to over-come his loss to Hahn in the previous election and gain the key support of the African American community and San Fernando Valley. According to a Los Angeles Times exit poll, 7 in 10 voters said they wanted the city to shift direction, including roughly a third of Hahn's own supporters, .

In a city where 47 percent of the population is Latino, Villaraigosa largely downplayed his ethenicity during the election and was able to garner cross cultural support. Whites make up 30 percent of the city population, while African-Americans and Asians account for about 10 percent each.

As a child, Villaraigosa was raised by his mother and grew up in poverty after his father abandoned the family. His high school attendance was spotty, but he went on to graduate from UCLA and earn a law degree at People's College of Law.

A one-time teachers union organizer, his political skills got him job of Assembly speaker in Sacramento in 1998. His next years were spent preparing for his first run for mayor in Los Angeles. In the 2001 campaign, he became a star in national politics by winning a race against six major candidates. But after losing to Hahn in the runoff, he turned his attention to running for, and winning, a seat on the City Council two years later. His district, which was north and east of downtown, and stretched from Eagle Rock to Boyle Heights and included Mount Washington, where he lives.