Despite a tough year, L.A. mayor is back on top

LOS ANGELES — Barely a year ago, Antonio Villaraigosa's political star seemed anything but luminous.

His wife divorced him after he admitted an affair with a Spanish-language television reporter. A court blocked his high-profile move to seize control of Los Angeles' troubled school system. News columnists charged that a notorious self-promoter was getting his public comeuppance.

And yet the Los Angeles mayor is soaring again in the City of Angels. He is running virtually unchallenged for re-election in March against a field of under-funded unknowns. He is widely discussed as a likely 2010 gubernatorial candidate.

Villaraigosa, who emerged from a difficult upbringing in the tough urban district of City Terrace to take over City Hall in America's second-largest city, is leading again with passion and swagger.

Despite questions of personal character, Villaraigosa has consolidated his power with public charisma and backroom chutzpah. With a month to go before the election, he has chased away serious challengers, vacuuming up campaign dollars despite the city's $1,000-per-person limit.

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