LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Thursday that he is running for California governor, joining a competitive field for the 2018 contest that includes the lieutenant governor and state treasurer.
Villaraigosa, 63, made the long-expected announcement online, saying that he will focus on rebuilding the middle class by investing in schools and repairing roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
The Democrat and longtime ally of Hillary Clinton contrasted his candidacy with the election of Donald Trump.
“We are a state that builds bridges, not walls. We are inclusive. We celebrate our diversity. And we welcome newcomers,” Villaraigosa said.
The one-time union organizer emerged as a national figure in 2005, when he became the first Hispanic mayor in Los Angeles in over a century and a symbol of the growing influence of Latinos at the ballot box. He was national co-chair of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Democrats will be favored to hold the job in a state where the party controls every statewide office and both chambers of the Legislature, and the contest to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown is attracting interest from some of the party’s most prominent figures.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Treasurer John Chiang have already entered the race and other potential candidates include billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer and former state Controller Steve Westly. Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin is also planning to run.
Villaraigosa left the mayor’s office in 2013 after two up-and-down terms. He can claim successes such as bulking up the police department and seeding a transit-building boom, but he also was faulted for sometimes promising more than he delivered. A school takeover plan flopped.
The son of a Mexican immigrant, the high-school dropout turned around his life and eventually became speaker of the California Assembly, a city councilman and in 2005, mayor.
The next governor will be working with a Republican president whose positions clash with many of the goals pursued in California government, including pioneering restrictions to address global warming. Trump has called human-caused climate change a “hoax.” California was the first state to embrace national health care reform; Trump has said he will dismantle it.
Villaraigosa said he was familiar with working across the aisle, noting that as Assembly speaker he negotiated budgets with then-Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
But he acknowledged in an interview that conflicts would be inevitable. While Trump has vowed to deport people who entered the country illegally and build a wall along the border with Mexico, Villaraigosa said he would “do everything in my power to chart a different course under the law.”
“We need to unite, but also be ready to stand up for our values,” he added.
The race is taking shape at a time when the state economy has gradually improved but millions of Californians are struggling in poverty or lower-wage jobs. Drivers contend with crumbling, congested freeways and the state’s water supply remains shaky after years of drought. Governments are saddled with soaring pension and employee health care costs, which are cutting into services.
At a time when the economy has left many behind “people feel like their voice isn’t heard. I’m running because I want to be that voice,” he said.
The strong interest in the governor’s race is partly the result of California’s election rules, sometimes called the “jungle primary,” which sets the stage for unpredictable outcomes. Only two candidates, the top vote-getters, advance to a November runoff, and voters can select any candidate, regardless of party.
The unusual, free-for-all rules put a lot of voters in play for candidates — Democrats can seek Republican votes, and vice versa, while a large group of independent voters is up for grabs.
Villaraigosa would have a likely advantage with Hispanics, a growing force in state elections. But a look at exit polling from the state’s U.S. Senate race shows the Latino vote doesn’t move in lockstep. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, made repeated appeals for Hispanic support in the Democrats-only matchup, but the survey conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research found Sanchez roughly split the Latino vote with winner Kamala Harris, who is black and Indian.
After spending the last three years in the private sector, including as an adviser to supplements and weight loss company Herbalife, Villaraigosa said he had learned that “sometimes the best intentions of government don’t always have the results we hope for.”
“We need to do a better job to create jobs,” he said.