It’s striking how the Los Angeles Times has reacted to the demise of Mayor Villaraigosa’s marriage. Its writers and editors seem genuinely shocked, like they’re seeing something about the mayor they had overlooked and now regret their past affection for him.
On Thursday, Steve Lopez literally tore him apart in a column that, if it had been written about President Clinton during the Lewinsky mess, would have earned him a good scolding from MoveOn.Org. The conventional wisdom during that episode was that Clinton’s extramarital dalliance had no connection to his presidential virtues. He erred, but only in his “private life.” But Lopez cut Villaraigosa no slack:
Unless he has had an affair with someone who reports on City Hall, or he otherwise compromised the office of mayor, it probably is none of our business. But Villaraigosa said nothing to dispel the raging rumors, and Corina Villaraigosa filed for divorce the next day, citing irreconcilable differences.
I wouldn’t bet on it, but maybe when it all sinks in, the mayor will wake up and realize it’s time to tame his incorrigible, teenage ways and do at least one job right. The 15-hour days haven’t done us, him or his family any good. He’s spread so thin, all his major goals are unmet.
With a long trail of close friends and supporters who feel Villaraigosa betrayed them to advance his own cause, let’s hope this latest failure, as he calls it, could finally bring the humility he so badly needs.
Today, it’s reporter Duke Helfand’s turn. In a story that relies on anonymous denunciations to a degree I find shocking, Helfand basically depicts the collapse of Villaraigosa’s marriage as evidence of a character flaw that could upend his political career.
The fallout from Villaraigosa’s separation has eroded some of his support.
“I think it removes some of the sheen that I’ve had for him,” said one prominent state leader who has known Villaraigosa and his wife for years but would not be quoted by name for fear of embarrassing them. “You can’t fool the people with a big smile. This is the playground of men in politics.”
Part of Villaraigosa’s problem in the current predicament, many say, arises from past behavior.
He has two adult daughters born out of wedlock, and he publicly acknowledged being unfaithful to his wife in the 1990s. That episode led to an extended separation and alienated for a time many ardent supporters, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who declined to comment for this report.
If, as expected, Villaraigosa runs eventually for governor, he can be sure that reporters and bloggers will scrutinize him in minute detail.
“In these kinds of situations, you can always expect a certain amount of prurient interest about what actually caused the split,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist who ran former Gov. Gray Davis’ 1998 and 2002 campaigns. “But to someone with a high political profile like the mayor, the more telling thing is what comes afterward, in the long run.”
Few in Villaraigosa’s inner circle would speak on the record about his marital woes. But at least one person who has helped guide some of the mayor’s most important public policies said he had lost enthusiasm for him.
“You’re not as motivated,” said the friend. “You don’t do the extra thing that you used to do before. Everybody is holding their breath to find out what’s next.”
Don’t you love that anonymous source who asks Helfand to withheld his or her name for fear of embarrassing the mayor? Really? You think leaving your name off such a harsh comment makes it less embarrassing to him? I also love Helfand’s aside that Supervisor Gloria Molina would not comment. If he hadn’t thrown that in, most readers would have presumed all the negative anonymous quotes were from her.
This passage also made me laugh:
Other political leaders whose personal failings have made front-page news have emerged with their careers largely intact, or enhanced, even if their behavior cost them political points in the short run.
The list of such cases reads like a Who’s Who of modern American politics: — former President Clinton, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart.
Now let’s run through that list of political leaders again, slowly.
Clinton? He has gone down in history as the only president impeached in the 20th century. Nearly two years of his presidency were consumed by the Lewinsky scandal. His second term was basically a waste. Yes, he remained popular, but he lost so much time, and that will permanently affect how history views him.
Gingrich? He never got out from under the reputation of being a guy who asked for a divorce so he could be with a younger woman while his wife was in a hospital with cancer.
Hart? How old is Helfand? His extramarital affair destroyed his campaign for the 1988 Democratic nomination — a campaign in which he had been an early front-runner.
Guiliani is the only politician Helfand mentions who seems to have survived his scandalous behavior — so far. It remains an open question whether the Republican party’s Bible-belt faction will give him a pass.
I don’t think Villaraigosa wants to be in the company of these men.
A former LA Times reporter, Mona Gable, added more fuel to the fire in Huffington Post. In a blog post, she pleads with Hillary Clinton to “dump Antonio” from her presidential campaign.
(A)s anyone who’s lived in LA for 15 minutes knows, Antonio isn’t very popular around here these days. He’s not all that great a mayor. He couldn’t get his school reform bill through giving him power over LAUSD, even though he had several buddies in Sacramento carrying his water. The notorious May Day melee where the LAPD was caught beating up immigrants occurred on his watch. He acted like LA had the Olympics in the bag–then when it didn’t come through, pouted like a two-year-old.
For that matter he isn’t very nice to waiters either.
Hillary is under the illusion that she’s getting a rising political star–a future governor of California! But she might want to do some old-fashioned reporting. Antonio isn’t much liked even among LA’s Latino political elite. He burned a lot of bridges in his relentless quest to become mayor.
And now we have the split from his wife Corina over an alleged affair. Ah, me. When Antonio was Assembly Speaker, I covered him for a brief time in Sacramento. You could hardly walk down a Capitol hallway without hearing titters about his philandering. So when the mayor’s office issued a press release last week announcing the breakup with his wife, it was hardly earth shattering.
And that’s where Antonio should have left it: with a nice dignified press release. But no. He had to hold a press conference, he had to bring in the cameras. He loves the cameras. And he had to trot out two daughters from previous relationships to stand beside him.
This was the most cynical of posturing. Was this supposed to convey what a great dad he is since his two kids with Corina were nowhere in sight?
Naturally reporters thought they had been summoned to ask questions about the end of the mayor’s marriage. Or some such craziness. But Antonio refused to answer any. He refused to say if an affair had led to the split and asked for “privacy” for his family.
So why the press conference? Was it because he knew that the very next day Corina was filing for divorce? Or is there some other scandal?
Hillary, do yourself a favor if you want to win California: dump Antonio.
So much has changed.
When Antonio Villaraigosa ran for mayor the first time, in 2001, the Times‘ yearning for his victory was palpable. When James Hahn used a negative (but true) campaign ad to beat Villaraigosa, the Times and other local media were outraged. Hahn was treated by the LA Times almost as if he was illegitimate — a pretender to the throne. At the time, I joked that Times reporters and editors were like fanboy teenagers with pin-ups of Villaraigosa in their bedrooms. It was so obvious. Antonio could do no wrong, Hahn could do nothing right. In perhaps its final kingmaking performance, the Times put everything it had on ensuring Hahn could not be re-elected, and that Antonio would replace him.
I never thought the Times would turn on Antonio so sharply. Okay, some of it is performance related. Villaraigosa has squandered his mandate mostly through political bumbling, and the Times, to its credit, has not shied away from calling him on it. But most of those stories expressed a certain optimism that he could turn things around.
Surprisingly, it is the marital separation that seems to have pushed the Times over the edge.
All of its stories allude to “swirling” rumors of an affair. That might be the clue. Not the fact of Antonio having an affair — that’s almost always a factor in a marriage’s demise. But the new woman’s identity, perhaps, or something else about the manner of his dalliance — maybe the Times knows something it can’t run with yet, something stomach-churning. And career-threatening.