Villaraigosa to be L.A.'s First Modern Latino Mayor

Madeleine Brand talks with Karen Grigsby Bates about the Los Angeles mayoral race. Challenger Antonio Villaraigosa, a City Council member and former speaker in the state Assembly, soundly defeated incumbent James Hahn and will become the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles in more than a century.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Joining us now to talk about some of the larger issues in the mayor's race is DAY TO DAY's own Karen Grigsby Bates.

And Karen, you've covered this political race. You've been talking to some political analysts about it. And what did you find out?

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES reporting:

Madeleine, it turned out that all of them pretty much suspected Villaraigosa's victory was in the cards, but some were surprised at how decisive a victory it was: 59 percent. The LA Times called it a `landslide.' I don't know whether 59 percent counts for that or not. But they all said, these people, that Villaraigosa's forays into the city for meet-and-greets and his insistence that he would be mayor for all and not part of LA were critical to his success, but there were other issues, too.

BRAND: And those were?

BATES: Well, frankly, the tickly issue of Villaraigosa's ethnicity. It made some voters uncomfortable the first time he ran for mayor in 2001. Bill Boyarsky is the former city editor of the LA Times, and he says part of Villaraigosa's success this time around was reaching out to non-Latino voters.

Mr. BILL BOYARSKY (Former City Editor, Los Angeles Times): What Villaraigosa did was convince two parts of Los Angeles that were not Latino--the African Americans and white voters, particularly in the alienated San Fernando Valley--that he could be the mayor of all the people.

BATES: Bill said Villaraigosa did a good job making people feel good about electing a Latino candidate and presented his success as success for the city.

BRAND: But, Karen, given that nearly have the city's residents are Latinos, how much of a revelation could this have been?

BATES: Yeah, well, there's that. Here's Mara Marks from the Center of the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. The center did exit polls on election night that showed voting patterns by race. And she says that even though there's a lot of hoorah about Villaraigosa's victory, the city was moving in that direction anyway.

Ms. MARA MARKS (Center of the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University): LA has elected Latinos to significant political office, ranging from, you know, the president of the City Council, the president of the school board. The speaker of the Assembly is now Latino. So it is a historic victory, but we have to temper that against the fact that it's just inevitable.

BRAND: And, Karen, you know, we start trends here in California, in Los Angeles. Is there a wider national lesson to be learned?

BATES: That's a good question, Madeleine. Mickey Ibarra was the assistant to President Clinton for Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House. He says that while Villaraigosa's victory is news now, he sees a time in the not-too-distant future when the victory of a Latino candidate won't be considered national news.

Mr. MICKEY IBARRA (Former Assistant to President Clinton): Well, I think it's clearly a case where America's tomorrow is perhaps Los Angeles today. The fact--the demographics of this country certainly point to a more prominent participation in its leadership positions, including mayor--the Latino community.

BRAND: So, Karen, a Villaraigosa victory, even though it's just a mayor's race, could be felt all the way up to the highest levels of the land?

BATES: Yeah, Ibarra says yes. And look for Latino political influence to increase significantly.

BRAND: OK. Well, to more prosaic matters, and that is: How do we pronounce his name?

BATES: You know, I asked him about that when I was following him around on Sunday, and he gave me a lesson to pass on to his new constituents.

Mayor-elect ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles): Via airmail, rye bread, gosa. Via-rye-gosa.

BATES: Villaraigosa (pronounced Via-rye-gosa). Got it?

BRAND: Villaraigosa (pronounced Via-rye-gosa). Got it. Thanks, Karen.

BATES: You're welcome, Madeleine.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY's Karen Grigsby Bates.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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