While Villaraigosa has experienced some devastating lows during his time at City Hall, he has also enjoyed a string of accomplishments. He has taken steps to make Los Angeles the safest it has been since the 1950s. He persuaded L.A. County voters to raise the sales tax on themselves, money that was then used to create jobs. He has overseen the construction of new light rail systems – later this month a new line will start running from downtown to West L.A.; by summer, it will run to Culver City; by 2015, to Santa Monica. He was named president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He has received praise for his work promoting America Fast Forward – a transportation financing program backed by 188 mayors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.
Michael Kelly, the executive director of the L.A. Coalition for the Economy and Jobs, said Villaraigosa has "done a great job of promoting Los Angeles as a global city that must compete against the world's top metropolitan regions in order to grow its economy and create quality jobs."
"In the end, you know, you've got to be able to look at the man in the mirror, the person in the mirror if you will," Villaraigosa said. "And I feel fairly good about the progress we've made."
When asked about his greatest accomplishment as mayor, Villaraigosa launched into a rambling four-minute answer, rattling off what he sees as his greatest hits. Initially he cautions, "I can't say 'I've done this' – in fact, whenever my staff puts the 'I' word I like to put 'we' and change the pronoun." But seconds later, he says, "I run 22 schools, about 18,000 kids – I've taken on the toughest schools in the city."
At one point he appears to become emotional when recalling the time he met Nelson Mandela and the speech he gave at Rosa Parks' funeral in 2005.
"There have been a number of times when I just wanted to pinch my cheek and say, 'God, I'm so lucky that I'm mayor of this city that my grandpa came to 100 years ago.'"
When his tenure at City Hall ends next year, Villaraigosa said he plans to "take a time out and reflect on public service, probably speak and write, and maybe work in academia as well." But he warned, "I'm not finished yet." Whether it is his final year as mayor or his role fighting for Obama's re-election this fall, Villaraigosa is most certainly not finished – whether or not he will finish strong remains to be seen.
Matthew Jaffe is covering the 2012 campaign for ABC News and Univision.