LOS ANGELES – Former Speaker of the State Assembly Antonio Villaraigosa made history on March 4 when he won an East Los Angeles seat in the 14th council district of the nation’s second largest city.

Villaraigosa, a former organizer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles, ascended with 56 percent of the vote, taking the seat away from Councilman Nick Pacheco, and, for the first time in the city’s history, defeating an incumbent councilman in a primary election.

The election win was a critical comeback for Villaraigosa who had lost a bitter race for mayor of Los Angeles in 2001 to James Hahn. Hahn’s supporters used racist campaign ads and vicious personal attacks against Villaraigosa.

“We are going to organize families and work together to elevate the quality of life of this district,” said an emotional Antonio Villaraigosa to hundreds of labor union and community supporters who filled the Plaza del Sol hall in Boyle Heights, a working class, Mexican American and immigrant community. “This victory clearly says that we will not be forgotten. We are human beings and we deserve respect,” he continued as volunteers cheered, cried, and chanted, “Si se puede!”

“This is just the beginning,” said the jubilant Miguel Contreras, executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who chaired the election night celebration. Contreras had every reason to be joyful, because the Villaraigosa victory means that the labor movement will now have a powerful advocate in the City Council. Undoubtedly, Villaraigosa will be the same passionate fighter for labor’s cause that he was when he was Speaker of the State Assembly. That prospect brought out over 500 hundred unionists for door-to-door campaigning in the last four days of the election. They joined hundreds of community volunteers of all ages walking precincts along with college and high school students.

Wayne Johnson, president of the California Federation of Teachers, hailed Villaraigosa for his role in helping to win the most important teachers’ strike in the history of Los Angeles.

Villaraigosa put together a progressive coalition to win this race, undaunted by personal attacks from the Pacheco camp. “Even though they’re going to attack me for it, I’m still opposing the death penalty, still opposing three strikes, and still opposing those who want to declare war on our youth,” Villaraigosa said during the campaign.

With the Villaraigosa win behind them, the full force of labor will now focus on the May 20 race in which Martin Ludlow, former political director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, has made it into the runoff for a South Los Angeles City Council seat.

African American former police chief Bernard Parks was easily elected to fill the vacant 8th District seat in South Los Angeles. Last year Mayor Hahn enraged the African American community, which had overwhelmingly supported his bid for mayor, when he refused to extend Parks’ contract.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com