The strongholds of municipal liberalism are gone; the coalition of immigrants, unionists, poor people, and neighborhoods has been replaced by alliances between tough-on-crime Republican mayors and organized business. But the seeds of a revival are there.
Even by the fast-forward standards of California politics,
where term limits bump off the entire state legislature every eight years,
Antonio Villaraigosa has had a meteoric career. In the early 1990s, he was an
organizer for the teachers' union, a county supervisor's delegate on the L.A.
transit board, and president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern
California--none of these particularly promising starting points for a career in
politics. By 1998, astonishingly, he had become speaker of the California
Assembly--and today, he is the great progressive hope in the upcoming election
for mayor of Los Angeles.
The old order still governs here; the future will not be rushed. Considering all the changes Los Angeles has gone through in just the past decade--white flight and immigrant influx, the displacement of the business elite, the rebirth of the union movement, the rise of a labor-Latino alliance--the idea that a new urban progressive coalition could officially take power this year might have been one transformation too many, one bridge too far (or, at least, too quick). Yet it almost happened--indeed, might have happened if the old order hadn't waged a disgraceful campaign to keep its hold on power.