Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is running to succeed California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Villaraigosa, who served as speaker of the state Assembly from 1998 to 2000, considered campaigning for governor in the 2010 election but like his Democratic rival, Gavin Newsom, he decided to step aside for Brown.
Here are five things you should know about Villaraigosa:
1. He became a union organizer after attending People’s College of the Law. Villaraigosa worked as a field representative and organizer with United Teachers Los Angeles, a union of more than 33,000 educators, the American Federation of Government Employees and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Villaraigosa was elected to the Assembly in 1994, becoming speaker three years later. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2001, losing to James Hahn, but moved on to the Los Angeles City Council in 2003. He was sworn in as the 41st mayor of Los Angeles in 2005, becoming the city’s first chief Latino executive since 1872 and gracing the covers of Newsweek and Time.
Though he would be the first Latino governor since 1875, Villaraigosa has long chafed at the characterization, saying he aims to be a voice for everyone. His last name is a composite of his family name, Villar, and the last name of his first wife, Corina Raigosa. They divorced in 2010. Six years later, he married Patricia Govea. Villaraigosa has four grown children.
2. He famously clashed with teachers unions. After working for teachers unions in Los Angeles and statewide, he was considered a strong ally. And in the Assembly, Villaraigosa pushed for more funding for school facilities, carrying measures to lower class sizes and boost teacher performance. Later, however, he accused teachers unions of defending a broken system and argued some of them were in “full-throated denial” over a Superior Court ruling striking down the state’s teacher tenure and seniority laws.
After failing to take control of Los Angeles Unified, he created a new partnership for campuses in L.A. He now wants the governor to be “the pied piper of improving schools.”
3. His legislative record was quite liberal. His first bill in the Assembly would have raised income taxes on the wealthy. He carried measures to expand Medi-Cal to poor children and to establish the Healthy Families Program, providing uninsured children with medical coverage. He also pushed to strengthen controls on banks and more forcefully regulate guns. Then, as mayor in 2006, he backed state legislation creating a statewide single-payer health insurance program (as a candidate for governor, Villaraigosa has been adamant that the state shouldn’t embrace a universal, government-run health care system without first identifying a way to pay for it).
In Los Angeles, he established himself as the guy who thought big, but he was hobbled by the economic recession. Still, he led a campaign for Measure R, the voter-approved, $35-billion transportation package in 2008 that enacted a countywide half-cent sales tax. The public transit system was greatly expanded in that time. And violent crime plummeted, mirroring a trend that was taking place across the U.S. at that time. After leaving the mayor’s office, he made millions as a business consultant for the likes of Herbalife and Banc of California.
4. His national profile grew in 2012. That year he was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and chairman of the Democratic National Convention, where he turned heads by saying the party’s platform should embrace same-sex marriage.
At the Democratic National Convention in 2016, Villaraigosa, whose grandfather emigrated from Mexico, said he had come to “speak for the 11 million often forgotten people” living in the country illegally, describing them as “hardworking people toiling in the toughest jobs with little to show for it.” He ripped into then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump for his proposal to deport the immigrants.
“These 11 million have no credentials to this hall,” Villaraigosa said. “They don’t even have a vote. But they must have a voice in our party and our nation.”
5. His campaign focuses on the economy and middle class. He contrasts the wealth in the state’s largest cities to the poverty in its vast rural and suburban stretches that occupy much of inland California.
“Travel a few miles from Brentwood to Boyle Heights or a long distance from Hillsborough to Huron, and you will see that there are actually ‘two Californias’ – one largely white and wealthy, the other largely Latino and poor,” he said.
Villaraigosa, who for years advocated for a partial overhaul of Proposition 13 that gives property tax breaks to corporations and large commercial land owners, said he’s open to a re-examination. He often questions why the California Environmental Quality Act could be exempted to build football stadiums and arenas, but not public facilities like hospitals.
In addition to driving down the state’s high poverty figures, he wants to focus on schools. “We can’t be afraid of innovation. We can’t be saying ‘no’ to technology. We can’t keep on making excuses for the lack of success.”