I first met Antonio Villaraigosa some seven years ago, while he was campaigning for the California Assembly. I was immediately impressed with the depth of his convictions, the breadth of his background and his natural ability to build consensus. He had done so much, and yet he was so young. There was something special about Antonio.
He has strong beliefs that are well-thought-out and passionate. Having served as the local chapter president of the ACLU and on the MTA board as a labor organizer for teachers and government workers, he has developed a strong and diversified background.
Later in the spring of 1995, newly elected Assembly members Antonio Villaraigosa and Bob Hertzberg appeared at a meeting of Democrats for Israel to talk about Latino-Jewish relations. Who knew at the time that each would be Assembly speaker? Each would finish each other's sentences. Antonio displayed a genuine affection for the Jewish community and a natural ability to build bridges.
In 1997 The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles sponsored a Golden Anniversary Mission to Israel with 400 people. Antonio, then the majority leader, went on the trip as part of the Jewish Community Relations Committee group. He displayed an avid fascination and genuine curiosity. Two years later, he went back to Israel with the Anti-Defamation League. His service as Assembly speaker -- by far one of the most productive in the modern term-limit period -- speaks loud and clear why he should be mayor.
His speakership began with Republicans being treated fairly; each committee had a Republican vice chair. There was a true sense of bipartisanship. Republican leader Scott Baugh said, "Antonio Villaraigosa has been widely credited with reclaiming the stature of the speakership and reinforcing the standing of the Assembly; he has been acknowledged for restoring civility to the conduct of legislative business and for establishing a tone of cooperation and bipartisanship that endures today." Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte said, "People who served with Speaker Villaraigosa know that he went out of his way to accommodate Republicans."
What has impressed me about Antonio is his courage to stand tall against powerful interests as he pursues what is right. I saw this firsthand. A bill was flying through the Legislature, pushed hard by agricultural water interests, that would have been costly to every segment of education, from kindergarten to the university system. The bill was in the last committee of the Assembly.
People representing various aspects of education asked him to help. Antonio analyzed the public-policy issues of the proposal and decided to stop the bill. He stood up to those powerful interests and helped public education with the power of his speakership and his will.
The job of Los Angeles mayor is a difficult one. Frequently, contentious interests cancel each other out, and nothing gets done. An effective mayor has to bring communities, elected officials and others together to solve problems. In Sacramento, Antonio Villaraigosa has done this many times during his tenure as speaker and majority leader. His list of accomplishments fills 11 pages on his Web site: a 35 percent reduction in the car tax; the first on-time budget in many years; establishing the Healthy Family Program for 250,000 children of working-class families; the extensive education program; the joint-authored largest school bond in the history of the United States -- $9.2 billion; legislation lowering class size; significant hate-crime legislation; significant gun-control legislation; and a $2.5-billion park bond, the largest in U.S. history.
More money than ever, over $20 million, went to various Jewish institutions. Significant legislation addressed Holocaust survivors.
But what is more important: what will he do? Villaraigosa has an extensive plan for action in many areas and in much detail.
Antonio Villaraigosa believes that economic development and good quality of life must go hand-in-hand in Los Angeles. He will be business-friendly and protect communities at the same time. He advocates refinements to current policies that will focus city energies and resources on encouraging entrepreneurial activities, creating good-paying, career-oriented jobs and coordinating efforts to benefit neighborhoods that have not consistently benefited from economic growth. He has always been a strong protector of the environment.
As a former member of the MTA and RTD boards and the Assembly Transportation Committee, Antonio has more hands-on experience with transportation issues than any major candidate for mayor of Los Angeles in modern times. He is an advocate of coordinated planning to move people and to reduce traffic congestion in Los Angeles, using buses, light rail and traffic management techniques.
Antonio believes that effective community-based policing provides mechanisms for breaking down traditional barriers between the police and the communities they serve, creating a partnership that can reduce crime and enhance community involvement.
I have been active in politics my entire life, and have supported many candidates. It has been a long time since I have supported a candidate with as much unrestrained enthusiasm and personal commitment.
Having personally witnessed him in action, many times displaying courage and a passion for outstanding public policy, I know Antonio Villaraigosa has the capacity to be a great mayor. As I have been telling my friends for the last two years, for those who are looking for the next Tom Bradley, his name is Antonio.