Ex-Speaker Vows to Work With Mayor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On just a few hours' sleep, with his voice strained and hoarse, Antonio Villaraigosa wound up his campaign Tuesday night by doing what comes naturally: giving a rousing speech to supporters.

At a huge outdoor party that didn't end even after Villaraigosa conceded, the candidate reiterated his main themes--that his campaign was about people and bringing the city together.

Villaraigosa thanked his family and supporters, and promised to work with the new mayor, James K. Hahn.

"I've said that what makes L.A. great are the people in it," Villaraigosa said. "We've been able to touch a chord--it's a chord of the hope and aspiration in this city to come together, to make this great city work for all of us."

Villaraigosa, his eyes shining, said he'd lost his voice from his 39 campaign stops over the past two days. He started his day at 6:30 a.m. in Boyle Heights, continuing the breakneck pace that he set over the weekend, repeatedly reminding shoppers, commuters, union activists and others to vote, vote, vote.

His mood was upbeat and his enthusiasm contagious. Those around him reached out to take his picture, shake his hand, meet the Eastside's native son.

"I feel great," said an ebullient Villaraigosa, who took only a short afternoon break from campaigning Tuesday. "It's a wonderful feeling. This is the neighborhood I grew up in. . . . Look at me. You see a guy who's going to fight for the people of this city."

Villaraigosa, whose campaign melded support from across the city said he believed the key to the election was turnout.

"If we can raise up the number of people who vote in this election, we're going to win," he said. "I expect a big turnout. And if there's a big turnout, I expect to be the next mayor of the city of Los Angeles."

Villaraigosa attempted throughout the last few months to downplay the historic nature of his campaign. (The last Latino mayor of the city left office in 1872.) Although he had a campaign office in Boyle Heights, he spent much more time in the San Fernando Valley, South Los Angeles and other areas.

Still, in an interview Tuesday evening on Spanish-language television, he said: "If our community votes, I will win. . . . If they don't vote, the other guy will win. . . . If we win, we will win with the Latino people."

There was no denying that Villaraigosa's Latino heritage--he is the son of Mexican immigrants--played into many voters' decisions Tuesday.

"We have to increase the political power of Latinos in this city," said Tomas Leon, 62, after voting at the Delano Park multipurpose room in Van Nuys. A politician "doesn't necessarily need to be Latino to help us, but this man [Villaraigosa] has shown that he wants to help Latinos. Let's give him a shot."

Reginaldo Ronquillo, who also voted in Van Nuys, said he is very clear on why he supported Villaraigosa.

"Not because he's Hispanic," stressed Ronquillo, a Guatemalan native who emigrated to the United States nearly 22 years ago. "I don't vote by that. I think he's a man that grew up in a very difficult situation, made some mistakes and corrected them. . . . His mistakes made him stronger."

Villaraigosa, who was kicked out of high school but who turned his life around, returning to graduate and ultimately becoming Assembly speaker, passionately and repeatedly told his life story around the city. He was perhaps most fondly embraced at union halls; on Monday evening, he drew about 3,000 longshoremen to a harbor rally.

At a rally Tuesday morning, Villaraigosa was roundly cheered each time he mentioned his support for issues close to union members' hearts, such as affordable health care and housing and livable wages.

He was flanked in the packed room by county Supervisor Gloria Molina, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-El Monte), Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union.

"We have a big job, but nobody does it better than a union army," said Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Some of Villaraigosa's campaign volunteers said they had taken the day off work to help.

"I think there's an opportunity to show that the Latino community can come out, despite what the polls say," said Ricardo Mireles, 36, a Los Angeles school district employee who carried his 13-month-old son, Sol, in a baby carrier on his chest.

His enthusiasm and energy rarely flagged. He spent Monday night cooking hot dogs at Pink's in Hollywood and greeting diners at Canter's Deli in the Fairfax area and finally met with his closest staff at his Mount Washington home until after 2 a.m.

There, about 15 of his aides discussed the long campaign. Father Gregory Boyle, known for his work with gang members in Boyle Heights, led the group in prayer.

But Villaraigosa was back on the streets a few hours later.

At one point, he walked behind the counter at the Antojitos Mexicanos taco stand at Grand Central Market, donned a cook's hat and apron and made tacos.

Vintage Villaraigosa.

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Times staff writers Carla Hall, Hector Tobar, Evelyn Larrubia, Joel Sappell and Doug Shuit contributed to this story.

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