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Symbolic move

AFTER MONTHS OF INDECISION and weeks of playing coy, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has finally confirmed that his family will move into Getty House, the city’s official mayoral mansion in Windsor Square. Although Villaraigosa clearly enjoys his self-styled reputation as a man of the people, his move to the mansion will only add to the symbolic stature of his mayoralty.

On Wednesday morning, Villaraigosa’s visit to the downtown criminal courthouse clearly amused his fellow jury pool members because it revealed that the mayor was “just like everybody else.” And Villaraigosa clearly relished the chance to spread the good word about jury service and the obligations of citizenship, using his time to commiserate with fellow jurors and even sign an autograph or two.

But Angelenos, like other Americans, also like to look up to their elected officials and -- despite their best democratic instincts -- even enjoy the pomp and circumstance that sometimes surrounds officialdom.

There are a few politicians who don’t feel comfortable embracing the full regalia of their offices, who feel it is somehow inappropriate in a democracy. Elected officials are, after all, public servants. Yet those who have shown disdain for ceremony have at times paid a political price.

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Many Americans gave President Carter grief for walking in his inaugural parade in 1977, selling the presidential yacht and turning down the White House thermostats.

Here in California, Jerry Brown earned the nickname “Gov. Moonbeam” in part because he eschewed the governor’s mansion for a Sacramento apartment and insisted on being chauffeured around in a shopworn Plymouth.

But if his Armani suits, silk ties and occasional preference for mild cigars are any indication, Villaraigosa is not morally averse to enjoying the finer things in life. Nor is he unaware of the importance of symbolism in his own political ascent. Indeed, there is more than a little poetry in the story of a young man from the Eastside growing up to occupy the ceremonial home in the center of the city.

The last two mayors of Los Angeles chose not to live in Getty House, and, in some ways, their decisions were symbolic of their tenures. Richard Riordan, whose administration never quite lost its aura of noblesse oblige, preferred to remain in his own mansion in Brentwood, while Jim Hahn, who was much more interested in being a good father than a great mayor, chose to live in his own home in San Pedro.

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From throwing out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium to kicking off the nomination announcements for this year’s Latin Grammys, Villaraigosa has worked hard to elevate the visibility of the mayor of Los Angeles. Of course, such appearances also elevate the name recognition of Antonio Villaraigosa. Ceremony usually plays well on TV.

Whether Villaraigosa will invite the camera crews into Getty House remains to be seen. It almost doesn’t matter. By moving into Getty House, the stately symbol of Los Angeles civic life, Villaraigosa will be giving the office of mayor in the nation’s second-largest city the respect it deserves.


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