Villaraigosa, the Legacy Years

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Whenever you hear the media start talking about a politician's legacy, you know the end game has begun.

Whether due to health, defeat or the coming end of a career for other reasons, examination of...The Legacy... is seldom good news.

That's where Antonio Villaraigosa finds himself these days. He has almost two years still to serve on his final term, but the conversation has shifted. Again.

After he was elected in 2005, by defeating the incumbent mayor, Jim Hahn, Villaraigosa was the fresh face – to many the great Latino hope.

He vowed that he would reinvent how Angelenos viewed the very office of mayor.

Unlike Hahn, who saw his job as running the vast city machinery, Villaraigosa said he would be out in the city, being a leader on tough issues like school reform and crime -- and being visible.

He became maybe a little too visible – remember the trouble Villaraigosa got into for escorting dates and his children to events like the Oscars and Lakers' playoff games. On free tickets.

Almost as soon as he was reelected in 2009, the conversation became more centered on what Villaraigosa was NOT getting done. How the city was deteriorating on his watch.

It's been two years since the cover of Los Angeles magazine declared Villaraigosa a failure – before his second term even began.

The mayor came in with so much promise, the story said. And delivered so much disappointment.

Since then, the whole playing field has tilted away from Villaraigosa's ambitions for L.A.

City Hall has reeled under the double effects of recession and staggering obligations to its employees. The mayor has had to oversee layoffs and other cuts. Play defense on most of his agenda.

The schools he took over are no better off than the LA Unified schools they left behind, the latest test scores show.

His plan to accelerate transit funding and build the Westside subway didn't figure on a Republican Congress. What will happen on transit remains an open question.

The final chapter of Villaraigosa as mayor had its semi-official opening this morning. The Times' political columnist, Jim Newton, ran the first part of a conversation with the mayor.

It felt like an early exit interview. Villaraigosa, as all politicans do, downplayed any legacy talk. He's still moving forward, chasing an agenda.

School reform. Pension reform. Fixing the way the city works.

But the headline on the interview contained the telling L Word – legacy. Newton framed the story as a question that pretty much everyone has about Antonio, his friends and allies included.

He has the time and opportunity to make a significant mark on the history of his city. Or he could squander his final months and go down as a failure. Which will it be?

We won't know the answer until 2013.

That's almost two years of legacy talk. If you can't wait to get started, stop by and post a comment. What will you remember of the Villaraigoisa years?

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.