Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Antonio Villaraigosa's final State of the City speech: The mayor issues schools challenge (video)

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In his final State of the City address Tuesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lashed out at the two candidates seeking to succeed him for their lack of “serious discussion” about education reform. (You can watch the full speech video above.)

“Education can’t be a footnote on a campaign mailer or fodder for an attack ad,” Villaraigosa said in his speech at UCLA’s Royce Hall. 

“It's time for our candidates to demonstrate the ‘fierce urgency of now’ when it comes to ensuring that all of our children have access to great schools.”

RELATED: Villaraigosa's legacy for LA

City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel have focused less on education than other issues. The mayor has no direct control over the Los Angeles Unified School District. But Villaraigosa wielded considerable influence over public schools by raising millions of dollars to help elect school board members and creating an education partnership that now operates nearly two dozen campuses.

“It's time they presented us with their comprehensive visions to make our schools shine. Our kids need a champion," said Villaraigosa, who directly challenged the candidates seeking to succeed hin: "Be that champion.” 

Greuel was in the audience, and afterward said she has addressed education issues. “I’ve talked at every single debate about education,” Greuel said. “It’s personal, not political for me. My son is in public school.”

She touted her efforts 25 years ago to help create the afterschool program L.A.’s BEST. Greuel also promised she’d talk more about education. “I am going to be laying out a number of my policies and programs.”

A spokesman for Garcetti said the councilman also has discussed public schools. He cited Garcetti’s call for increasing the STEM program in L.A schools. STEM is the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math program.

“He would be a strong advocate in Sacramento for L.A.'s students to fight for more funding for LAUSD schools,” Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said.

Some disagree that education should play a greater role in the mayor’s race. City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the budget committee, is one of them.

“I think that our principal focus as a city right now needs to be on making sure we have a sustainable budget, and creating jobs for those that need them,” he said.

In his speech, Villaraigosa also touted his accomplishments. He pointed to a lower crime rate, more public transportation projects, and more environmentally sensitive policies at the Department of Water and Power and Port of Los Angeles. He also said the city is more business friendly, and has helped improved the economy.

“I am proud to say the state of our city is strong and growing stronger by the day,” he said. “L.A. is on the move.”

RELATED: Mayor Villaraigosa's exit interview with Patt Morrison

The one-time high school dropout and son of a single mother also returned to his own story. He recalled a time sitting at the kitchen table at their El Sereno home. Villaraigosa said he was “bruised and bloody from the night before, with a bandage on my arm.” The bandage covered a new tattoo.

“She began to cry,” he said of his mother. “She knew I had given up on myself.”

Villaraigosa said her voice shook: “You don’t believe in you. But I believe in you.”

“I had no idea that close to four decades later, I would have the honor to serve this city and its residents,” the mayor said.  “I thank you.”

L.A. elects a new mayor May 21. Villaraigosa will hand over power July 1st.

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