Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa showed up in Compton of all places to speak on what we in South Los Angeles have known for the past two years, that teacher’s unions (CTA, UTLA, etc.) have been the biggest hurdles to reforming public schools. The mayor highlighted the unions’ attempt to nullify a parent vote to convert a failing public school to an independent charter school. Villaraigosa said the unions are “one unwavering roadblock to reform.”

He is right on that point. They have been and will be. But he is wrong to have waited so long to speak out. It has been obvious from the outset of his whole reform movement that teacher’s unions have been reform-busting in the same ways that they accuse private sector and government leaders of union-busting on demands for livable wages.

It’s interesting that Villaraigosa would show up in this fight now; after he got his schools (and cut his deal with the “big box” charter systems); and after he took over the school board with a real “gang of four” that got the Eastside four new charter schools out of LAUSD but ignored the superintendent’s recommendation for one new charter school in South L.A. earlier this year.

Where the hell has he been since that fight occurred in January, a fight where the Black community could have used his voice, influence and ” bully pulpit.”

You know the one, the first new school reform movement in LAUSD, where charter school opportunities were represented as viable; the one where LAUSD school board member Marguerite LaMotte, corralled Black leadership at her office under the guise of supporting student-first education and charter school reforms while organizing in the back room with the teacher’s union to protect poor teachers at low performing schools. Then she opposed the superintendent’s recommendation, and the mayor’s gang of four–led by School Board President Monica Garcia–voted with LaMotte.

Now, the mayor wants to take out LaMotte and replace her with one of the community folk–a person most people wouldn’t follow to the store, much less to the school board (but that’s another commentary).

The point here is that if the mayor wants to play Superman, isn’t he supposed to get to the scene before the crime occurs? And what is happening to kids in South L.A. is truly a crime.

Villaraigosa’s arrival now is tantamount to coming, after a victim has been robbed. The charter school ICEF bidded on, and deserved to get, is gone.

In fact, ICEF got bumped in the head twice. Now it’s on life support, and charter school raider, Dick Riordan, is their doctor. Lord, help ’em. The three elementary schools that should have been awarded to charter operators were handed back to the same teachers who caused them to fail.

Where was the mayor then? Exactly. Nowhere to be seen, while our children were jacked at gunpoint (or “board point”).

Now, he wants to start a fight with the union now that everybody’s “got theirs.” The timing couldn’t be more alarming, but that’s the mayor.

I equate Villaraigosa to being the “Mayor of Stuffville,” because he has so much stuff on his plate he can’t get to it all. Also, because he’s full of . . . stuff.

Many in the Black community have determined that we can’t rely on what he says, or for him to come through on anything significant. Yet, he never loses sight of Latino, law-enforcement and labor interests, which makes this new anti-labor position so interesting.

Anything else beyond those three, he may get to it or not get to. If you’re gonna wager, bet on “not get to.”

That’s the way he’s done the Black community–the core constituency that got him elected. The other core constituency that got him elected were labor unions. In fact, he comes out of the labor movement, as does a half dozen other Latino elected officials who, have used the growth of the labor movement in Los Angeles to springboard into politics in the same way Blacks once used the church or civil rights groups to springboard into politics.

Labor unions are the main pipelines for Latino leadership development. I can’t see him rejecting his origins. He has to know that he’ll need them again in four years, when he runs for governor, and labor has a long memory.

I can’t really see him putting his neck on the chopping block with labor unions over failing Black children’s educational interests, but I intend to find out. Is he fronting off labor for a sincere point in the Black community, or is he fronting off the Black community to make a symbolic point with labor?

Standing in front of labor is like standing in front of a speeding train. Standing in front of the Black community is like trying to leap a tall building in a single bound. The bottom line is he’s gonna stand with one and get bowled over by the other. I, for one, would like to see if Villaraigosa will take a hit for the Black community (Hell, he takes one for everybody else). If he’s gonna take a hit, education should be the one. If he can deliver on education, he’s Superman.

Some are just glad he finally showed up. I’m still stuck on “where the hell has he been?” The robbery has already taken place. Labor is just one of the scoundrels that got away with Black children’s education, and they’re the main ones “road-blocking” reform.

Let’s see if Mayor Villaraigosa really is Superman, and if he can catch labor. Or will labor catch him? After all, labor is his kryptonite.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum ( and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at

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