Villaraigosa scores historic win in L.A.

LOS ANGELES — Antonio Villaraigosa became the first labor organizer ever elected mayor of Los Angeles, winning a whopping 58.66 percent of the May 17 vote to defeat incumbent Mayor James Hahn.

He will be the city’s first Latino mayor since 1872, and the first L.A. mayoral challenger to defeat a first-term incumbent since 1937.

“Ya era tiempo — it’s about time,” several Latino labor activists said at his victory party.

Villaraigosa’s campaign exhibited two labor hallmarks, unity and organization. As voting tallies came in on election night from around the city, his margin of victory steadily increased, indicating he may have won every demographic group except, perhaps, Republicans, in this heavily Democratic city.

The victory party was a celebration of coalition. The emcee was Assemblywoman Karen Bass, California’s only African American woman state legislator. Three prominent personalities on the stage were actor/director/education reformer Rob Reiner, United Farm Workers founder Dolores Huerta, and basketball Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

Addressing the cheering crowd, Villaraigosa said his “21st century” electoral coalition was “built on the shoulders” of the coalition that elected Tom Bradley, the city’s first African American mayor, in 1973.

Villaraigosa dedicated the victory celebration to the memory of Miguel Contreras, the widely beloved Los Angeles County Federation of Labor secretary-treasurer who died of a heart attack May 6.

Villaraigosa’s victory and his winning coalition will undoubtedly have state and national implications. At a lunch-hour precinct worker pep rally on Election Day in East Los Angeles, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) predicted that the victory would be a decisive factor in growing efforts to defeat the right-wing policies of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The winning campaign’s final-week strategy prominently featured the endorsement of Sen. John Kerry, whose 2004 presidential campaign had Villaraigosa as one of its national co-chairs.