Then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, left, accompanied by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, waves, Tuesday, July 8, 2008, at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa easily claimed a second term Tuesday in an election that could be a rehearsal for a run for higher office.
The first Hispanic mayor in more than a century was rewarded with a second, four-year trip to City Hall despite an uneven first term that saw the breakup of his marriage and the defeat of his signature plan to reform city schools.
Unofficial returns from all but one precinct and a tally of vote-by-mail ballots early Wednesday gave the mayor 56 percent of the vote. He needed to capture more than half the vote to avoid a May runoff.
The closest candidate among nine little-known rivals, attorney Walter Moore, tallied 26 percent.
"I stand before you all humbled tonight, humbled by your support and by your confidence," Villaraigosa told supporters at an election night rally.
Crime is going down and the charismatic Villaraigosa helped push through higher taxes to fund transit projects, but his tenure was slowed by the failure of his plan to take control of city schools and the disclosure of his long-running relationship with a TV newscaster. His wife filed for divorce.
The son of a Mexican immigrant, the 56-year-old mayor promised nothing less than to transform a city of nearly 4 million long divided by geography, wealth and color. But the city faces a possible $1 billion budget gap by 2010, traffic is considered the most congested in the nation and a one-in-three school dropout rate remains unchanged.
The election confirmed again the city's prevailing attitude toward local politics: a collective yawn. In a hotly contested mayoral primary four years ago, turnout didn't break 30 percent. It appeared considerably lighter this year.
The contest attracted scant public attention. There were no debates. Villaraigosa built up a commanding advantage in money and TV advertising, all but eclipsing the field.
As he looks toward a possible run for governor in 2010, the mayor is not saying if he will serve his full term as mayor.
"I'm not going to make a promise I can't keep," he said in a recent interview.