07/24/2013 06:26 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2013

Antonio Villaraigosa -- A Legacy of Public Service

Co-Authored by Norma Vega

Antonio Villaraigosa ended his tenure as Mayor of Los Angeles this past June, after serving two terms at the helm of one of our nation's most populous, diverse, and vibrant cities. He leaves behind a legacy of accomplishments such as major improvements in transportation and infrastructure, reduction of crime, and education reform.

He oversaw the funding of a much-expanded rail system, the reduction of violent crime to its lowest level in 60 years, and the reduction of the number of low scoring schools from 1 in 3 to 1 in 10. He achieved all of this in the midst of the Great Recession. Even his most devout critics acknowledge that the city is better off today than it was eight years ago.

But perhaps his greatest legacy will be to the Latino community.

Antonio Villaraigosa wasn't just a charismatic and effective mayor of Los Angeles. He established himself as a national leader -- one whose personal story and effective advocacy on critical issues such as education, immigration, and civil rights have had a positive impact on our community and our nation.

Antonio Villaraigosa's personal story is one that is familiar to many disadvantaged families. Born in East LA and raised by a single mother, Antonio worked as a shoe shine boy and struggled to stay in school. He dropped out and eventually graduated from Roosevelt High School thanks to the mentorship of a beloved English teacher, Herman Katz, who saw something in a young Antonio.

He graduated from UCLA where he further developed his organizing skills, first with MEChA and later with the ACLU and the United Teachers of Los Angeles. He was elected to the California State Assembly serving as Speaker, Los Angeles City Council, and eventually as Los Angeles' first Latino mayor since 1872.

Mayor Villaraigosa never forgot his roots or his community, taking on big causes like immigration reform. He rejected the advice of nearly all his senior aides by marching with thousands of Angelenos opposing anti-immigration legislation and received death threats as a result.

The Mayor was equally passionate about reforming our educational system, calling it the"civil rights issue of our time." Consequently, he made friends and enemies alike but there was no denying his passion, his power to affect change, and his connection to the people. He once told his staff he would not back away from immigration and education and vowed to use all of his political capital to improve the lives of immigrants and children. In his universe, public service meant taking care of everyone, no matter their background.

He used his platform effectively, elevating his role among national and international audiences as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and later as Chair of the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and used it to promote diversity, champion civil rights and gay marriage, and give dignity to the plight of the poor and disenfranchised.

And that's the essence of the Antonio Villaraigosa that we love: open, inclusive, passionate, charismatic, and approachable. Thank you from all of us for humanizing our issues, championing our causes and for being who you are -- an effective leader on the national and world stage who never forgot his roots or his community.
Mickey Ibarra is President and Founder of the Ibarra Strategy Group and former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House for President Clinton. Norma Vega is an associate at Ibarra Strategy Group and previously the Executive Director of Mayor Villaraigosa's Office of Census 2010.