L.A.'s Villaraigosa Becomes New Mayor

Antonio Villaraigosa takes the oath of office as the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles since the 19th century. At the ceremony Villaraigosa pledged to reform the public school system, improve public transportation, and unite the city's diverse citizenry.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Los Angeles today, Antonio Villaraigosa took the oath of office as the city's first Latino mayor in more than a century. Thousands of people turned out for the ceremonies at City Hall. But as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, it wasn't just the size of the crowd that established Villaraigosa as one of the nation's newest political stars.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles): I, Antonio Villaraigosa...

Judge STEPHEN REINHARDT: ...do solemnly swear...

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: ...do solemnly swear...

INA JAFFE reporting:

As Villaraigosa took the oath of office, administered by federal Judge Stephen Reinhardt, there were a few voices here and there cheering after almost every phrase as if the onlookers could hardly contain their delight.

Unidentified Man: Congratulations, Mr. Mayor.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

JAFFE: It's not the first time Villaraigosa has taken an oath of office. He was formerly speaker of the state Assembly and an LA City Council member, but he'd never been sworn in before an audience like this one. There were dozens of officials from around the world--Mexico, El Salvador, Morocco, Australia. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was there, along with mayors from Atlanta, Washington DC and San Francisco. Former Vice President Al Gore had a place on the stage. Also in attendance, several California governors, past and present. Villaraigosa began by introducing the dignitaries to the crowd. Many were cheered; Governor Schwarzenegger was booed.

(Soundbite of booing crowd)

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Angelenos, excuse me. There will be civility today.

JAFFE: It was the only negative moment in a day of celebration. The feeling that this occasion was history in the making was palpable in the crowd. Villaraigosa, however, didn't run as a Latino candidate. He made an appeal to every ethnic group in LA and won every ethnic group in the city, defeating former Mayor Jim Hahn by 17 points. Today he acknowledged he was making history while repeating his call for unity in this most diverse American city.

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Early in our campaign there were those who said it wasn't time for a Latino mayor. The faith you placed in me makes me so proud to be an Angeleno today, and I promise you I will be a mayor for all the people.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

JAFFE: But the city's future, said Villaraigosa, will be an uncertain one if a few serious problems are not addressed. Chief among those, the woeful state of the city's schools, where about half of all black and Latino high school students fail to graduate. Villaraigosa also did what every resident of this city does. He talked about how awful the traffic is here, but he had a decidedly non-LA proposal for fixing it.

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: So Los Angeles, join me fighting for the investment in public transportation that's the hallmark of any great city.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

JAFFE: Los Angeles is a city of dreams, Villaraigosa said today. For a little while, Angelenos may be content to dream that their new mayor has a solution for their city's many serious problems. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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