January 26, 2006

Villaraigosa will give rebuttal to Bush speech in Spanish
New, 4 p.m. Democrats will rely on L.A. mayor to give Spanish-language response to president's State of the Union speech next week.

By Toby Eckert

WASHINGTON -- Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will give the Spanish-language response to President Bush's State of the Union address next week, Democratic leaders announced today.

The task will give Villaraigosa another opportunity to boost his national profile at a time when Democrats are trying to retain the loyalty of Latino voters. Bush drew about 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, substantially more than Republican candidates in the past.

The president's annual address to Congress, in which he lays out his agenda for the coming year, is scheduled to air at 6 p.m. PST on Tuesday. The Democratic response is normally delivered about an hour later.

Villaraigosa will deliver his address for Spanish-language networks from Los Angeles City Hall. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will deliver the Democrats' English-language response from the governor's mansion in Richmond, Va.

Asked for a preview of what he might say, Villaraigosa, who is in Washington for a mayors conference, said: "I need to hear what the president will be saying about the state of the union and the future. But I can tell you that as the mayor of a city, the issues of homelessness, poverty, what we do around our schools" are possible topics.

He also mentioned the "dilapidated infrastructure" of American cities, including roads and bridges.

"I think we need to see a real commitment on the part of both parties, frankly, to beginning to invest in the infrastructure of the cities. The power of the economic engine, the vitality of America is in our cities," he said.

Villaraigosa might pick up some ideas and pointers on Thursday, when he is scheduled to attend a Democratic "pre-rebuttal" of Bush¹s speech by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Democrats started doing State of the Union responses in Spanish two years ago, reflecting the growing political clout of Hispanics. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the choice of Villaraigosa.

"As the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles in more than a century, we are proud to have his diverse voice within the party," they said in a joint statement.