But where Emanuel seems generally to enjoy doing public battle, Villaraigosa—palpably needy in person and heroically unfaithful to now-ex-wife Corina Raigosa (the former Tony Villar’s last name is a his-and-hers portmanteau)—always seemed to be enacting an inner psychodrama on L.A.’s grand stage. The city’s school district is a notorious underperformer, and to his credit Villaraigosa spent much of his first term trying to do something about it. His efforts included trying to manage a tranche of schools directly without union work rules, encouraging charter schools, and finally denouncing the teachers union in a powerful 2010 speech that earned him praise from reformers all over the country.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear whether Villaraigosa, who graduated from the unaccredited People’s College of Law and began his career as an organizer for United Teachers Los Angeles, wants to confront the unions or blame them for his failures. In 2007 he struck out in an attempt to win education reform in Sacramento but seemed eager to celebrate his own defeat soon after. The unions “had that place locked down,” Villaraigosa told New Yorker reporter Connie Bruck. “I couldn’t get a resolution that said, ‘His name is Antonio Villaraigosa.’ I mean, they had it locked down!” Bruck described Villaraigosa’s “evident admiration for the union’s display of raw power.”
That don’t-look-at-me attitude still informs Villaraigosa’s governance. After years of dire and deteriorating finances (L.A.’s budget hasn’t been balanced for four years), the mayor allows government employee unions to carry out their tactic of ensuring that any slowdown in the rate of spending increases is immediately visible to Angelenos in the form of cuts to services.