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Why did Democrats choose Antonio Villaraigosa to lead national convention?

Antonio Villaraigosa has built an impressive résumé in the California Assembly and as mayor of Los Angeles. As chair of the Democratic National Convention, he could help woo Latinos. 

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"Even though this appointment is largely symbolic, that certainly helps in California and all the swing states that Obama needs such as Nevada, Florida, New Mexico, and Florida,” he adds.

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Professor Schnur and others say Villaraigosa has largely recovered from a 2007 affair with a Spanish-language television newswoman, which prompted his wife to file for divorce for the second and last time. He has mentioned his interest in the US Senate seat held by Dianne Feinstein, and the governorship now held by Jerry Brown – both Democrats.

Several analysts have speculated that President Obama, if reelected, might look to Villaraigosa for a cabinet appointment.

“With Brown likely to run again, this gives Antonio four more years to look for something that could put him on the national stage without having to forfeit any key state office he really wants,” says Schnur. “This DNC appointment is certainly a nice way of earning stripes as a loyal team player for a cabinet appointment.”

Beyond the symbolism of having a Latino in the DNC chair, Villaraigosa can have a hand in helping to shape aspects of the convention, other analysts say.

“Since we already know who the candidate is going to be, that leaves more space for someone to really guide the other activity of this convention,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. No. 1 on that list is immigration reform, he says.

“We wish we had someone of Antonio’s stature on the GOP side,” he says.

Mr. Vargas says Villaraigosa is known for “reaching successfully across the aisle” and following through on political promises.  

“He laid out a priority of cutting crime and reforming the police and he has done that,” says Vargas. “He has also addressed the issues of traffic and public transportation … this is very important for Los Angelenos,” he says. “And he has strengthened the mayor’s role in making education a priority.”

In the final analysis, says political scientist Matthew Hale, the chairmanship means less as an actual position of power than it does as a way for Villaraigosa to continue his way up the political ladder.  

“The importance to this seems to me not that the chair of the convention does much,” says Professor Hale of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., in an e-mail. “It is just that Villaraigosa will have lots of opportunities to get his friends and donors key spots and perks at the convention. Those favors could matter in the long run.”

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