June 08--Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took over downtown's Grand Park
on Friday night for a boisterous block party that was largely about celebrating
On a giant podium erected on the steps of City Hall, a group of elected officials stood and praised Villaraigosa, who steps down this month after serving two terms as mayor.
"American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest called him a dear friend "who loves Los Angeles." Former President Bill Clinton, a longtime political ally, said "he's a good-looking guy" who made the city safer and greener. Placido Domingo and Stevie Wonder sang tributes.
It was, in the former president's words, Villaraigosa's "swan song." "He was faithful to his oath to serve you, every one of you," Clinton said. "He deserves this block party."
Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti was one of the most effusive. "You have allowed us to dream for eight years. And they have been sweet, sweet dreams."
The event was billed as the culmination of a series of monthlong celebrations recognizing various ethnic and other communities. Early in the evening, a children's choir sang and Native American dancers performed as people milled around munching free nachos. A beaming Villaraigosa said the event wasn't only about him, telling the crowd: "Today's a day to party and celebrate us."
But he was clearly the star of the show. Rabbi Don Goor opened the event by saying: "We gather here today with a sense of gratitude for this man and the gifts he gives to us."
Some in the crowd saw the event as a farewell to a leader they hoped was destined for bigger things. "When they said 'Antonio Villaraigosa,' I said, 'I'm there,' " said Kashmira Omar, who teaches English as a second language. "I pray he runs for governor -- or the White House! -- next."
Others were more interested in placing a period on the Villaraigosa era. "He never governed, he was just in front of the cameras," said Kosta Kaporis, an environmental engineer with the city Bureau of Sanitation. "I'm pretty sure anything will be better."
With food trucks, arts and crafts tents and a fenced-off VIP section for the event's corporate sponsors and honorees, the party's upbeat atmosphere stood in contrast to years of spending cuts at City Hall, where Villaraigosa and the City Council have eliminated 5,300 staff positions since the economic downturn hit in 2008.
A labor union representing city employees has criticized the cost of the event, saying the money would have been better spent on city services.
Officials put the price tag at about $265,000. While most of that was covered by donations from private companies such as Disney, Wells Fargo and Time Warner Cable, the city will pay about $75,000 in police, street services and other costs.
David Garber, a Santa Monica resident who was downtown for jury duty and decided to check out the event, said the costs were worth it. "I don't feel like Los Angeles does enough events like this," he said. "I don't know why they don't have something like this every month."
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