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Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2008: Villaraigosa urges presidential candidates to reinvigorate anti-poverty programs.

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By Phil Willon
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

June 23, 2008

MIAMI — After a rough year marked by budget headaches and marital woes, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa strode back into the warm glow of the national spotlight this weekend and used it to urge the presidential candidates to reinvigorate federal anti-poverty programs.

Villaraigosa, speaking to hundreds of city leaders at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in South Florida, on Sunday criticized the Bush administration for neglecting the nation’s poor and called on the next president to increase funding for preschool programs and offer additional low-income tax credits.

“As mayors, we see a financial disaster coming. We see homes in our communities with ‘bank owned’ signs right next to the picket fence,” Villaraigosa said. “We’re seeing what happens when a generation of policy-makers accept the conventional wisdom that it’s political suicide to talk about waging another war on poverty. The result, we have the worst poverty rate for children in the industrialized world.”

The mayor’s address on poverty capped a three-day trip to Miami laden with schmoozing and politics.

On Saturday, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama met with Villaraigosa and three other influential Democratic mayors who had been strong backers of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primary, asking for their support — and received Villaraigosa’s enthusiastic endorsement.

Villaraigosa also netted a bundle of contributions for his mayoral reelection campaign at a private fundraiser Saturday night hosted by Bernard Klepach, chairman and chief executive of an airport concession company. The event was held at Klepach’s home on South Florida’s posh Indian Creek Island.

Last year, Villaraigosa hosted the mayors conference in Los Angeles at a tumultuous time for both him and the city.

The month before the conference, the national airwaves were filled with pictures of Los Angeles Police Department officers beating demonstrators and journalists in MacArthur Park during a May Day immigrant rights rally. Villaraigosa also had separated from his wife of 20 years, admitting later to an extramarital affair with a Telemundo anchorwoman.

Villaraigosa, in an interview this weekend, said during his toughest days in office he tried to stay focused on the two things that mattered most: his children and his job as mayor. He also was quick to list his accomplishments during his three years as mayor: putting more police officers on the street; doing more to aid the homeless than was done in the previous decade; fixing potholes and addressing traffic; and dealing with tight budget times in a fair, measured way.

“As mayor you don’t have the luxury of being an ideologue. People want you to get things done, and they want you to work across the political spectrum to get things done,” he said.

At the Florida conference, Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson said she wished Villaraigosa and California’s other big-city mayors would become more involved with the Conference of Mayors to ensure that issues facing the state are addressed. Still, Villaraigosa was greeted warmly by most of his peers, as well as former President Clinton, who addressed the conference shortly after Villaraigosa.

“Mayors are in the public eye every day, there are moments of great difficultly and moments of great success,” said Mayor David Cicilline of Providence, R.I. “But I think people judge mayors on the quality of the work being done . . . and he’s accomplished much.”

Cicilline praised Villaraigosa as a “great national leader” and passionate advocate for America’s poor.

Villaraigosa’s speech on poverty issues Sunday included heavy criticism aimed at President Bush. The mayor said Bush failed to deliver on his promise to address the poverty that was exposed to the world after Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s time to put the issues of poverty and opportunity back at the front and center of our national conversation,” Villaraigosa said. “I believe it begins with sending a message to Washington that we will no longer mortgage our nation’s future on an endless war while shortchanging the critical investments in America and Americans.”

phil.willon@latimes.com

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