Antonio Villaraigosa urged Angelinos to dream big and come
together after he was sworn in Friday morning as the new mayor of
Los Angeles on the steps of City Hall, becoming the city’s
first Latino mayor in more than a century.

“We need to start thinking big again and facing up to our
biggest challenges,” Villaraigosa said, energetically
addressing a crowd of a few thousand spectators gathered on the
City Hall lawn. “I intend to be a mayor who confronts those
challenges.”

The former teachers’ union organizer and UCLA alumnus
promised to make the city’s faltering K-12 schools a priority
during his time in office.

“Dream with me of a Los Angeles where our kids can walk to
school in safety and where they receive an education that gives
them a genuine opportunity to pursue their own dreams,”
Villaraigosa said.

“I can’t say it more clearly,” he continued.
“Reforming our public schools is the central challenge facing
Los Angeles.”

Many believe the day marked a historic shift in Los
Angeles’ political makeup, as the city’s burgeoning
Latino population finally translated size into political sway.

“Look, Los Angeles has been a Latino city for a long, long
time. Now it’s just kind of manifested in the leadership of
the city,” said former Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh during the
post-inauguration festivities. “But our task as leaders of
this city is to govern for everybody, and I think we need to be
very careful to avoid the mistakes of the past, the exclusionary
policies that kept people out.”

From the mariachis serenading ceremony attendees on the steps of
City Hall to the crowd’s frequent chants of “Sí se
puede,” the Latino influence was apparent during the
day’s ceremonies.

Villaraigosa, who was brought up in the slums of City Terrace in
a home marred by domestic violence, repeatedly reminded the crowd
of his humble upbringing.

“I will never forget where I came from. It may be a short
way from City Terrace to City Hall. But, fellow Angelinos, we all
know what a vast distance it truly is,” said Villaraigosa,
who at one point addressed the crowd in Spanish.

The historical significance of the day showed in the big-name
faces on stage with the new mayor and his family. Along with mayors
from many of the nation’s major cities, Villaraigosa was
greeted by former Vice President Al Gore, Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger ““ along with three other former governors
““ and dignitaries from Mexico and El Salvador.

The day’s events began soon after the sun rose with an
early morning interfaith service held at the massive Cathedral of
Our Lady of the Angels, just a few blocks from City Hall.

The services reflected the day’s prevalent theme of unity,
as leaders from each of the city’s major faiths ““
including chanting Buddhist monks dressed in orange robes and
incense-burning members of the native Gabrieleno-Tongva tribe
““ took turns at the podium to wish the new mayor well.

Though the transfer of power was made fairly smoothly, the
Villaraigosa festivities hit a bump in the road when a group of
about a dozen young anti-abortion protestors stood outside the
cathedral chanting into a megaphone.

The group, which later followed the procession from the
cathedral to City Hall holding signs that said “You
can’t be a Catholic and pro-abortion,” sat in on the
morning’s prayer services silently, barring some sniffles and
sighs from two of the group’s crying members.

Over the course of the campaign, Villaraigosa made some promises
his opponents dismissed as too grand to realize, including vowing
to hire at least a thousand new police officers and set the
framework for an extensive rail system that would rid the city of
its notorious traffic jams.

Now that he has been sworn in, Villaraigosa faces the daunting
challenge of making good on promises some have dismissed as
fantasy.

Hollywood resident and inauguration attendee Maurece Chesse,
like many Angelinos, expects results.

“I like his style, but I want follow-through instead of
the nice words,” Chesse said. “If you make an agreement
with the people, you’ve got to stand up and
deliver.”

Many in the crowd felt confident in Villaraigosa’s ability
to make significant strides during his time in office.

“He’s a fellow who’s going to bring a certain
kind of energy to the city. He’s putting himself into the mix
where the people need to see a leader leading and encouraging
people to solve problems,” said Mount Washington resident
Michael Alexander. “He has the kind of energy and spirit
that’s going to be essential in bringing national focus on
Los Angeles.”

Villaraigosa spent Saturday ““ his first full day as mayor
““ planting a tree, meeting with police officers and dining
with firefighters.

“What you can expect is a lot of hard work,” said
former Assembly Speaker and mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg, as he
made his way through the procession to City Hall. “You can
expect him to tackle a lot of big challenges and not to run from
them.”