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Few outside of Southern California may be familiar with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, but a new profile of the mayor in the New York Times suggests that the Californian is taking on a bigger role in his party, and national discussion.

The Mexican-American cut his teeth as a labor organizer before being elected to the California Assembly in 1994 as a Democrat, elevated to Assembly Leader for his party in 1998, and elected Mayor of Los Angeles in 2005. After being elected with a wave of excitement in 2005, by 2009 a once supportive editorial board of Los Angeles Magazine published a cover story with Villaragiosa's photo tagged "Failure: So Much Promise, So Much Disappointment."

The Times notes that Villaraigosa's popularity collapsed within two years of being in office after "he confessed to an extramarital affair with a television reporter, struggled to run City Hall amid an economic downturn and disappointed supporters who thought he was drawn to the glamour, rather than the grit, of the job."

Last week, Villaraigosa was named chairman of the Democratic National Convention this September in Charlotte, and his stock appears to be once again on the rise. The Times reports that despite his early troubles, Villaraigosa is building a record on crime, mass transit expansion and the environment:

"With a little more than one year left in the final term in office for Mr. Villaraigosa, a reappraisal of him is under way amid signs that he is orchestrating a shift in his political fortunes. Mr. Villaraigosa’s name has returned to the small list of next-generation Democrats who have been waiting in the wings as members of the old guard of California politics move closer to retirement.

'There are plenty of people in L.A. who aren’t going to feel great about him personally — that’s always going to be true,' said Raphael J. Sonenshein, the head of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. 'But he’s really made a comeback that will pay off in a statewide race. He has politically recovered in a lot of ways.'”

The Hill labeled Villaraigosa as a "rising star in the Democratic Party" when reporting on his appointment to lead the convention, noting that the Los Angeles mayor speaks frequently on behalf of Hispanic Democrats and is the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Villaraigosa has also been named a national campaign co-chair for the president's reelection effort. 

The warm words from the national publication have not rubbed all locals the right way. In response to the Times piece, Dennis Romero writes in LA Weekly: 

"While noting that our mayor has 'disappointed supporters,' the paper says Villaraigosa 'is orchestrating a shift in his political fortunes.'

In other words, L.A. has forgotten about its worst-in-the-nation traffic and potholes, City Hall corruption, and a sex abuse scandal that plagues the very school system he promised to overhaul. (Note his silence when it comes to Miramonte Elementary School)."

[...]

"So, er, good luck in Washington, mayor. And remember, you won't need all those P.R. folks you surround yourself with to get nice pieces in the NYT, to fail to return our calls and to not put us on their press lists. You don't need the people's approval to be appointed by the president (good thing)."

Still, with his new national party appointment, role in the Obama campaign, rebounding success in a city known for large DNC donors and ethnic background being a key swing voting demographic, its not unimaginable that this national exposure places Villaraigosa on the list of possible names towards the top of the 2016 Democratic Party ticket.

All the GOP primary talk has led some to ponder what situation the Democratic Party will be in come 2016. Should Obama lose in 2012 it seems very unlikely that he will want or assume to be capable of being reelected in 2016, and aside from the obvious first choice of Hillary Clinton, the field for possible presidential nominees seems wide open. Following the passage of a same-sex marriage bill in the state over the summer, The Washington Post drummed up the suggestion of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as the 2016 frontrunner, also mentioning possible candidates in Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley  and Virginia Senator Mark Warner. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been brought up and I would not rule out former Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as threw with national politics.

Who do you think will be the Democratic nominee in 2016?

One last thing…
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