For most of us at Boyle Heights Beat, it was our first press conference. For all of us it was our first sit down with the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. Twelve youth reporters and I were welcomed at City Hall yesterday to interview our city’s leader on issues that affect our community.
As we approached security, we took in the domed ceilings and the sign above the doorway that told us we had arrived. Press Secretary Vicki Curry and the Chief Spokesman Peter Sanders led us into a small intimate setting where the Mayor holds press conferences. Both talked about their backgrounds as journalists, and what working for the Mayor entailed, while we reporters waited for the Mayor to finish an interview.
When the Mayor entered the room, he apologized for the delay, and asked everyone to introduce himself. He sat down among us, and began taking our prepared questions. “Now who’s going first?” inquired the Mayor with a smile. Reporter Alejandro Rojas started the questions, asking about the latest transportation changes within the city of Los Angeles, and whether or not a new light-rail network would compare to the coverage of the old Southern Pacific Railway and the Los Angeles Railway. The Mayor responded about his commitment to public transit, saying he hopes new transportation plans can transform Los Angeles “from a smog to a city of sustainability,” as well as eliminate traffic issues.
Reporter Andrew Roman asked the Mayor about the recent reduction of graduation requirements in the Los Angeles Unified School District– which shrinks requirements from 230 units to 170 units and makes electives optional. The Mayor answered that he supports a more rigorous A-G curriculum where students can be challenged and prepared for a successful career. A Roosevelt High School alumni himself, the Mayor said he has seen dropout rates improve since he was in school but that he believes they can get better. “You can compete with the best and brightest, no matter where you live,” he said.
About the issue of affordable housing in Boyle Heights, the Mayor answered that it’s important to have a mix of housing options– both high and low end. He added his belief that the next 20 years would see more high-end housing in Boyle Heights that would bring more of a cultural mix to the neighborhood.
The Mayor then proceeded to answer questions regarding the budget cuts on education, but put the blame on the State. Referring to the latest rounds of cuts by Governor Jerry Brown, the Mayor said, “short-term politics is destroying long-term policy,” adding that we should be investing in our schools, and our children. The Mayor pointed out that the state of New York spends approximately 16,000 dollars per student, while California is spending a little less than 6,000 dollars.
When asked about truancy tickets, and the recent policy change in respect to ticketing students for being late to school, the Mayor said he still believes “we need to be tough on our kids to go to school.” He stressed the importance of having faith in oneself, and had all the reporters repeat the phrase, “I believe in me.” He said he would’ve never become Mayor if he didn’t believe in himself, telling all the reporters to work hard, set a goal, and not give up.
When asked how he would grade himself as Mayor, he said he would “let the people grade me” and that he “was proud to be Mayor of this City.”