WESTWOOD, Calif. — In one of his last major speeches as mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday took credit for creating a safer, greener and more livable city, while also scolding the candidates running to replace him for not saying enough about how they will improve schools.
“The old Los Angeles is fading in the rear view mirror,” Villaraigosa said during his eighth and final State of the City address. He will be termed-out June 30.
“The old Los Angeles was a city of smog and gridlock, a city that was under-policed and insecure, a city that had let its schools deteriorate into factories of failure.”
Now, at least in part under his direction, he said, “L.A. is on the move.”
Backed by a line of American flags and wearing one of his standard dark suits, with a white shirt and solid pastel tie, Villaraigosa addressed an audience of about 200 city officials, community leaders and supporters at UCLA’s Royce Hall.
His speech and an accompanying video were packed with statistics that he used to summarize his two terms at City Hall.
They included mentions of more than 120 miles of new paved bikeways, four new light-rail lines opened and a $1.7-billion overhaul of the international terminal at LAX.
New green energy policies have helped reduce the city’s carbon emissions by nearly 30%, Villaraigosa said. And he credited his commitment to police hiring for a nearly 50% drop in violent crime and homicides.
“We promised to deliver, and we did,” he said.
Although the mayor noted that anyone who dares to set lofty goals is sure to miss some now and then, he made no specific mention of promises he failed to keep, like a pledge several years ago to plant 1 million trees. There have been about 380,000 trees planted.
He has also fallen short of his 2005 campaign pledge to add 1,000 police officers. The Los Angeles Police Department has grown by about 800 officers, in part through consolidation with another city public safety agency. Still, Villaraigosa drew applause when he said the city has surpassed 10,000 officers.
Villaraigosa also stressed his work in improving Los Angeles’ schools.
The mayor has no authority over the L.A. Unified School District, but early in Villaraigosa’s first term, he sought to change that.
He successfully pushed for a new state law that shifted power to his office, but it was quickly blocked by a judge. Instead, he turned to the school board, campaigning against United Teachers Los Angeles to elect members aligned with his education policies.
He later formed a nonprofit organization to take over 22 of the city’s most challenged schools. He has been a strong advocate for charter schools, which have increased threefold since he took office. The only time his roughly 40-minute address was interrupted came when someone from the audience shouted “No charter schools!”
John Rogers, a professor in the graduate school of education at UCLA, said Villaraigosa’s attempt to take control of city schools saw mixed results. “It’s difficult to say that the mayor’s schools have dramatically outperformed the rest of the school district,” Rogers said.
However, Rogers said the mayor leveled a valid criticism at City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel, the two candidates running to replace him in the May 21 election. He said the candidates may not have laid out more detailed plans because the mayor’s actions have made them wary of promising too much.
Villaraigosa, who has not made an endorsement in the race, said “it has been so disheartening to see our mayoral candidates devote so little time to a serious discussion of how to deliver a quality education for all our children.” He called on the candidates to each present a “comprehensive vision to make our schools shine.”
Greuel and Garcetti countered that claim, with both saying they have talked extensively about the need to improve schools. Greuel said she will release a detailed plan in the coming weeks, and Garcetti challenged her to an education-centered debate.
In his speech, Villaraigosa urged voters to elect not just a mayor, but a leader. “We want to choose someone who won’t nibble cautiously around the edges,” he said.
In a moment of reflection, he acknowledged that not everything had been rosy during his eight years in office.
“There have been some bumps in the road. Some potholes if you will. Some detours, some missteps, and yes, some failures,” he said. But, he added, “You fail sometimes when you swing for the fences.”
–Los Angeles Times