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After one year in office, mayor of LA is still big on promises

LOS ANGELES -- Most everybody seems to like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, even if his accomplishments after one year in office trail his sprinting ambition.

He wants to house the homeless. Revitalize downtown. Take over the school district. Get commuters to leave their cars behind for subways and buses. And make a city infamous for sprawl and smog ever greener.

Today marks the first anniversary of his election as the city's first Hispanic mayor in more than a century. And with it comes the question: Can he deliver?

Teachers are bucking his plan to run the schools, and homeowners grumble about a proposed jump in trash fees to pay for more police. Meanwhile, the budget is tight and unionized employees are clamoring for raises.

Villaraigosa has undeniably brought energy and visibility to an office recently known for a paucity of both.

He has established himself as one of the nation's most ubiquitous Hispanic politicians -- a smile in motion as he traverses this nearly 500-square-mile city.

To win in the first place, Villaraigosa, the 53-year-old son of a Mexican immigrant, cast himself as the antidote to lackluster former mayor James Hahn. But his election came to symbolize Los Angeles's changing demographics as a Hispanic-majority city.

Villaraigosa promised to upend the status quo, starting with dead-end schools from which tens of thousands of students fail to graduate each year. In was a natural issue for the former high-school dropout, who turned around his life after surviving the rough streets of East Los Angeles. But he has run into opposition from the teachers' union.

''When he portrays this as a failing district, he's misrepresenting the truth and that's what politicians do," said A. J. Duffy, president of the 48,000-member union. Villaraigosa's plan to place a council of mayors in charge of the school system -- the district includes Los Angeles and about two dozen smaller cities -- would merely exchange one oversized bureaucracy for another, he said.

Some are impressed with Villaraigosa's bulging portfolio of ideas, even if they have yet to come to fruition.

''We have to take it on with him," said Cynthia Johnson, 58, a bank employee who voted for Hahn a year ago. He solved a problem in her neighborhood.

''He promised to fix the potholes. He did," she said. ''That's a big thing."

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