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LA mayor heads for exit with jab at candidates

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Antonio Villaraigosa

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is not going away quietly.

During his state of the city address Tuesday, the departing Democrat whose term ends July 1 criticized the two candidates who could succeed him for lacking substance in their plans for education.

The two-term mayor did not refer to Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel by name, but said the candidates in the race failed to present comprehensive proposals to improve troubled schools.

“It has been so disheartening to see our mayoral candidates devote so little time to a serious discussion of how to deliver a quality education for all our children,” the mayor said in his speech at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Education reform can’t be a footnote on a campaign mailer or fodder for an attack ad,” he said. “It is time that they presented us with their comprehensive visions to make our schools shine.”

Garcetti and Greuel, both Democrats, are headed for a runoff next month to determine the city’s next mayor.

Villaraigosa’s comments injected a political note in his annual speech, which he usually reserves to outline his work at City Hall. Instead, he urged the next mayor to pick up where he left off on schools, the environment and growing the ranks of the city’s police force, which now numbers about 10,000.

Looking back over his eight years in office, the mayor pointed to historically low crime rates, expanded park space and a burst of transit construction in a city notorious for gridlock.

He said violent crime and homicides have dropped 49 percent since 2005, the year he took office.

But a comeback from the recession has been slow, rising pension and health care costs for government retirees threatens money needed for street repairs and tree trimming, and school dropout rates and housing costs remain alarmingly high.

He repeatedly defended his sometimes bumpy tenure.

The former state Assembly speaker entered office in 2005 as a groundbreaker, becoming the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles since 1872. But he failed in his attempt to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District. His personal life dominated headlines in 2007, with the disclosure that his marriage was ending and that he carried on a long-term relationship with a local TV newscaster.

“You fail sometimes when you swing for the fences,” he said.

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