Sen. John Kerry endorses Villaraigosa in mayoral bid

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Los Angeles Councilmember and mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa flexed his political muscle at a Van Nuys rally April 30, attracting an army of supporters that included former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, as well as three of the previous top five contenders for mayor.

Villaraigosa and his endorsers stressed the need for change in City Hall to about 500 supporters who attended the rally at Los Angeles Valley College.

“Politics has become too much about fear and charges and countercharges, (and) too much about division instead of vision,” Villaraigosa said.

Villaraigosa spoke about increasing the number of police officers, and improving public transportation, including the possibility of creating a subway system in Los Angeles, a claim his opponent Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn has called unrealistic.

“If you accept mediocrity, you should be prepared to live with it,” Villaraigosa said, alluding to Hahn’s plan to alleviate traffic by fixing 25 intersections throughout the city. “We need a mayor that won’t think just of the next four years, but of the next 40.”

Villaraigosa, who was the former state Assembly speaker and national co-chair of the Kerry presidential campaign, was surrounded during the rally by about a dozen Democratic leaders, including Councilmember Jack Weiss, State Sen. Gloria Romero, Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla, and former mayoral candidates Bob Hertzberg, Bernard Parks and Richard Alarc?n.

“If we are going to get to work, we need to get someone who will work for us,” said Alarc?n, state assemblymember and CSUN alumnus. “We need a real Democrat who will fight for civil rights. We need someone who knows he is a Democrat.”

Villaraigosa has garnered high-profile supporters, including State Representative Maxine Waters and former Lakers player Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr.

Some of these supporters backed Hahn during the 2001 mayoral race.

“I’m not here against anybody,” Kerry said. “I’m here for somebody. I’m here for a set of hopes and dreams that can make a difference in the quality of our lives.”

Kerry spoke about what he called Villaraigosa’s Democratic values, such as health care reform and access to a good education.

“It’s not about the talk of a campaign,” Kerry said. “It’s about the passion of a lifetime.”

The key endorsement from the former presidential candidate came one day after District Attorney Steve Cooley began a preliminary investigation into donations made to Villaraigosa’s campaign from several employees at two Florida gift shop companies with interests in concessions at Los Angeles International Airport.

Villaraigosa announced April 28 he would be returning about $47,000 worth of questionable campaign donations, and tried to contrast himself with Hahn by pointing out that the mayor has failed to do the same.

Throughout most of the mayoral race, Villaraigosa has questioned Hahn’s fundraising practices. Two Hahn supporters are under investigation by the district attorney regarding donations made to Hahn’s 2001 campaign, when he defeated Villaraigosa in the runoff election.

About 50 Hahn supporters protested in the college’s quad area during the rally, citing the questionable donations.

Protesters held up signs that read “Villaraigosa for Mayor of Miami” and “Villaraigosa Busted.”

“He gave back the money once he got caught,” yelled Rolando Cuevas, a Hahn supporter.

Villaraigosa did not mention the recent investigation regarding the donations during the rally. For many of those who attended, the issue was secondary to other more pressing topics.

Joe Sandoval, 52, a real estate agent who lives in Villaraigosa’s District 14, was at Valley College during the rally, but it was a Hahn sign he held in his hands. For Sandoval, Hahn’s and Villaraigosa’s stances on many issues are not too different, he said, but Villaraigosa has failed to provide basic services or fulfill promises to his own district.

While running for the Los Angeles City Council, Villaraigosa said he would finish his full term and not run for another office.

“He’s been absent,” Sandoval said. “I think it sucks. He said he would serve out his term — and I used to like this guy.”

Hal Netkin, who was also holding a Hahn sign. He said he was going to vote for Hahn, but with some reluctance.

“I’m going to vote for (Hahn) holding my nose,” Netkin said. “He is the lesser of two evils.”

Gaining key endorsements, Villaraigosa has been able to tap into voters who were previously strong bases for Hahn, including African Americans and residents in the San Fernando Valley.

As the May 17 election nears, Kerry’s endorsement might help cement Villaraigosa’s support from Los Angeles Democrats. The endorsement also helped illustrate his experience in state and national politics.

“Antonio has the personality to go up to (President George W.) Bush, to go up to (Gov. Arnold) Schwarzenegger, and get us funding,” said Larry Green, a Republican supporter of Villaraigosa. “Antonio makes me want to be a Democrat.”

Meanwhile, Hahn has continued to stress the decline in crime rates, and has continued to criticize Villaraigosa’s stance on gang injunctions and his former role in the American Civil Liberties Union.

“To put it bluntly,” said Sheila Silverman, a substitute teacher in San Fernando Valley who attended the rally to support Villaraigosa. “At this point, Democrats are the supporters (of Villaraigosa), and Hahn is doing all he can to get the Republican backing.”