- Written by Karen Ocamb
14 Jun 2013
FIRST PERSON - Before and after his enthusiastic participation in the LGBT Heritage Month/LA Pride kick-off weekend, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa engaged in intense “friendship diplomacy” with new Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chinese TV reported that Villaraigosa’s visit to Beijing last month was “to lay the groundwork for President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Barack Obama in LA” The two presidents met in Palm Springs June 7 and 8.
Villaraigosa told CCTV that President Xi “called Los Angeles the epicenter of the sub-national relationship between the United States and China.” China is the top trading partner for the Port of Los Angeles, which sees imports and exports to the tune of $120 billion, according to the Daily Breeze.
And yet when reporting on that business trip—paid for by the Port of LA and the Los Angeles World Airports—KPCC’s blog headline read, “Lame duck LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa travels to China on a trade mission.”
That headline is an example of how the press has often derided Villaraigosa since his 2007 affair with a Telemundo reporter and the subsequent end of his 20-year marriage. Villaraigosa has often acknowledged that affair as a personal “failure,” and he is aware of how much it hurt people who expected more from him as the tough kid from Boyle Heights who got elected in 2005 as LA’s first Latino mayor in 130 years.
“I think that disappointed a lot of people,” Villaraigosa told the New York Times last year. “I think that was probably the biggest thing. People just felt let down. I had to work to regain their trust.”
Many in the LGBT community were also disappointed, and some even agreed with critics who claimed the mayor had been seduced by the glamour of Hollywood. But when Villaraigosa’s legacy is finally written in the context of the worst economy since the Great Depression and the disinclination of President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to help cities, his accomplishments may find greater acclaim.
“We grew our police force, tackled our gang problem and made LA safer than it’s been since the 1950s,” says Villaraigosa’s gay senior advisor and deputy chief of staff Matt Szabo. “We doubled the size of our rail network and are putting 410,000 people to work over the next 30 years. We cleaned up our port, greened our city and opened 650 acres of new parks. We took on education reform and have seen tremendous improvement. We pushed for changes at LAUSD and have doubled the number of schools reaching the state's academic goals."
So far stories about Villaraigosa’s legacy have not included his substantial work on behalf of the LGBT community. He came to LGBT attention in 1994 as a candidate for the California Assembly (A.D. 45) seeking the Stonewall Democratic Club endorsement.
Once elected, Villaraigosa, who was soon appointed Democratic Assembly Whip and Majority Leader, and Shelia Kuehl—the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature—joined forces to form the first Gay and Lesbian Legislative Caucus. That year he also announced his support for the freedom to marry.
In his interview, Villaraigosa said:
“I had been president of the ACLU and we represented the LGBT community in many, many battles, but I can’t say I was an activist per se. I was generally a progressive, so I was tangentially involved with those issues—very supportive.
“But I can’t say I was someone known to take up that cause. But I remember going to Stonewall and being asked about—at the time, civil unions and anti-gay discrimination—all the things that were happening. This was 1994 and I was running for the Assembly.
“And I was supportive, of course, of all of the issues they raised. And then, as I was walking out, someone said, ‘What would you think about marriage?’ And I stopped for a second and said, ‘You know, I never thought about it. But, yeah, I’m for it.’
And I think why I’ve been so strongly in support has a lot to do with my upbringing, this notion of right and wrong, tolerance, embracing all people—that my mother gave us. So, if it was a new issue, it wasn’t difficult for me to resolve.” (Read the rest … including what was behind his LGBT activism and some of the bumps he experienced along the Mayoral journey … here.)
Vol 11 Issue 48
Pub: June 14, 2013