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Latino Journalists Meet, Question Villaraigosa

At a convention in Texas, the mayor-elect says he is concentrating on leading Los Angeles despite his higher national profile.

June 16, 2005|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

FORT WORTH — Facing hundreds of Latino journalists Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa skirted questions about his growing stature as a national Latino political leader, saying half-jokingly that he was not "going to leave city limits" for several months after taking office July 1.

Four prominent Latino journalists led a discussion with Villaraigosa during the opening session of the National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists' annual conference in the historic Bass Hall.

In their questions, the journalists consistently treated Villaraigosa as an expert on how to win elections as a Latino candidate.

But the mayor-elect resisted analyzing how his winning strategy would work for Latino candidates seeking office in other cities, such as New York, that will soon elect mayors.

At one point he was asked whether he might seek election to the White House.

"Look, I want to be a good mayor," Villaraigosa said. "My good friend Henry Cisneros said, 'If this is all you do, see it as an end to itself. And if you do well, your future is unlimited,' " he said. "We'll see what happens after that."

Cisneros is the former mayor of San Antonio and was housing secretary under President Clinton.

Earlier, Villaraigosa suggested he would seek a second term as mayor while explaining that he would need time to add more officers to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Villaraigosa's brief trip to Forth Worth is his second out of state since his May 17 election. Earlier this month, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to address a conference of progressive Democrats and have lunch with about 200 influential Latinos.

There, as in Fort Worth, Villaraigosa's election as the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles in 133 years was seen as a sign, not only of his own rising political fortunes, but of the increasing clout of Latinos across the nation.

Villaraigosa was welcomed in Fort Worth by City Councilman Salvador Espino, who presented him with a ceremonial key to the city, a pair of black cowboy boots and a black Stetson hat.

Espino said Villaraigosa's election was closely watched by Latinos in Texas. And most Dallas-Fort Worth-area newspapers, both English and Spanish, previewed Villaraigosa's visit.

"The face of Latino power comes to North Texas today," wrote the Dallas Morning News and its Spanish counterpart, Al Dia, in their Wednesday editions.

Espino said Villaraigosa's mayoral campaign, with its emphasis on building a citywide, multiethnic coalition, is considered a model for other Latino candidates.

"Right now, Villaraigosa is the hottest Latino political star. The entire country is looking for a good Latino leader that can represent everyone," Espino said.

More than 1,300 delegates registered for the 23rd National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists conference.

This year was the first time that the event's internal daily newspaper was published in Spanish, as well as English. And some conference sessions will be simultaneously translated for the first time.

Before departing for Texas, Villaraigosa received a warm welcome from about 50 hotel workers who gathered at the Westin Bonaventure downtown to vote on a new contract.

The mayor-elect helped mediate overnight negotiations that led Saturday to a proposed settlement of the hotel contract dispute.

"Once we ratify this contract, my hope is that we will be able to come together and bring more tourists to Los Angeles and more business to our hotels so you have more work and we have more revenue for the city of Los Angeles," he said.

When union leader Maria Elena Durazo, a close friend of Villaraigosa's, told the workers how he had worked through the night to find a compromise, the workers shouted, "Gracias."

Villaraigosa said the decision to intervene was an easy one. "Going into the tourist season, a seven-hotel lockout would have had a devastating impact on the economy," Villaraigosa said. "It is the job of the mayor, or an incoming mayor in my situation, to try to resolve conflicts."

Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.

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