Villaraigosa and the Newscaster, Again

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

On Wednesday, just couple of days after it was revealed that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was dating yet another local TV newscaster – this one a former Miss USA – the mayor told reporters that Californians don’t have any real interest in his personal life and that it won’t have any influence on whether or not he runs for governor next year.

The reporter, Lu Parker of KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, isn’t talking and a spokesman for the mayor’s office says there won’t be any comment on what the mayor does in his private time.

You know, just like the cops at a traffic accident: “Move along, move along, nothing to see here.’’

And yet people still stop and stare.

Villaraigosa’s been a politician long enough to know that it’s nonsense to suggest that people don’t care about the private lives of public figures. After all, there’s a reason that People magazine and the supermarket tabloids are still publishing.

And while it’s true that the mayor of one of the nation’s largest cities can date anyone who will have him, that doesn’t mean the news isn’t going to have an effect on the people who will be voting in next June’s Democratic primary for governor.

It was just about two years ago that Villaraigosa admitted to having a long-running affair with Mirthala Salinas, a journalist who reported on the then-very-much-married mayor for a Los Angeles Spanish-language television station. The clip of her reporting that the mayor and his wife of 20 years were getting a divorce was an instant classic.

Parker’s bosses insist they have no problem with their reporter’s relationship with the mayor, since she doesn’t cover politics. Still, as a weekend news anchor last Sunday she introduced a story about whether Villaraigosa will run for governor.

That was an interesting question even before the news about the mayor and the newscaster hit the airwaves. Just a few months ago, Democratic insiders were virtually guaranteeing that Villaraigosa was going to be in the governor’s race and a surprising number were calling him the likely frontrunner, ahead of both Attorney General Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Villaraigosa is a smart, photogenic big city mayor, who’s also one of the nation’s best-known Latinos, they argued. The scandal over his affair is in the past and besides, he’s the lone Southern California guy running against two candidates who will split the Northern California vote.

You’re not hearing that talk these days. Villaraigosa was re-elected last March with around 56 percent of the vote, a lower percentage than in 2005, when he ousted incumbent Mayor James Hahn. He didn’t have the political clout to get Jack Weiss, his close ally on the City Council, elected as city attorney or to convince voters to pass Measure B, his solar power initiative.

Then he angered his labor allies with a city budget calling for at least 1,200 layoffs and 26 unpaid furlough days for most city workers. He’s far from the only California politician facing budget problems (see Schwarzenegger, Arnold, and Newsom, Gavin), but it doesn’t help his future political plans.

Which brings us back to Lu Parker.

While everyone, including politicians, is entitled to a private life, once you put your name on a ballot and say “Vote for me,” it shouldn’t be a surprise if your every move is both scrutinized and publicized.

If Parker were a schoolteacher, a nurse, a lawyer or a salesclerk, her romance with the mayor would merit a short blog item or a paragraph in a long profile of Villaraigosa.

But since she’s a television reporter with a beauty queen background, it’s instant news and brings back all those Salinas scandal stories Villaraigosa undoubtedly would prefer to put far behind him.

Plenty of people will argue that in this post-Clinton/Gingrich era, political sex scandals don’t have the same career-killing power they once had. But sexual morality still matters to some voters and it doesn’t take many votes to swing a close election, like a race for governor.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics

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