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Building on the Buzz

June 26, 2005

Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa won't publicly recite his office vows until Friday, but he is already having a blockbuster honeymoon.

In the weeks since his election, he has wowed audiences from podiums in Washington and appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine. All this buzz has to do partly with his being Los Angeles' first Latino mayor in modern times and partly with his own charisma, back on effervescent display since his comparatively low-wattage campaign ended. And a lot has to do with plain hard work, starting on the morning after his May 17 victory.

Villaraigosa began that day by meeting with Police Chief William J. Bratton, and ended it talking to students, teachers and parents outside a South Los Angeles high school where a brawl had broken out. His pace hasn't slowed since.

He stayed up all night staving off a hotel strike that most residents were unaware was even brewing, though the 14-month dispute was hurting hotel bookings and city tax revenues. He announced that unlike the outgoing mayor, who turned down the post, he will head the region's powerful transportation planning board. He told a legislative committee that he wants state laws changed to give the mayor control over the Los Angeles Unified School District. He went beyond the usual suspects to assemble an expansive transition team, and with its help has begun naming key staff members whose experience and accomplishments have elicited murmurs of approval from just about every quarter of the city.

The higher the expectations, of course, the greater the risk that not meeting them will bring this stratospheric honeymoon bounce to a crash landing. We give the incoming mayor credit for taking that risk. One of Villaraigosa's strengths, after all, is that his energy is infectious. His talent lies not in having all the answers but in bringing together the people who do.

And he's asking the right questions. Should the mayor play a direct role in running public schools? We believe the mayor can do more to make schools safe, integrate them into neighborhoods and cajole and bully administrators, parents, teachers and students to do a better job. Whether that involves directly appointing school board members, we don't know, but given the state of L.A.'s schools, it's worth exploring. And we plan to do so on these pages, just as we hope to think out loud on how to ease the region's traffic gridlock and how to pay for the additional police officers Los Angeles so desperately needs.

Having created high expectations that he can solve these so-far intractable problems, Villaraigosa's challenge now is to harness the enthusiasm such expectations generate and engage everyone from elected officials in Washington and Sacramento to ordinary voters in meeting them.

Sure, it's a grandiose dream. But then, so is Los Angeles.

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