Today's profile in the Times touches on the major turns in the life of Antonio Villaraigosa, but it's clear that, at least in the primary, these set pieces won't be probing too deeply. They try more to give a brisk paragraph or two to a whole bunch of biographic points. Jessica Garrison hits most of those that became familiar in 2001: fatherless home, spine tumor, high school dropout, turns life around, union activist, ACLU president, name change, Assembly speaker, extra-marital affair, reconciliation. She also updates the tale with Villaraigosa trying to explain away why he ran after promising voters he wouldn't, points out the list of his 2001 backers who are behind Hahn this time (including boyhood friend State Sen. Gil Cedillo) and parses a bit the schisms in local Latino politics. His record as a councilman is addressed briefly, and the story also gives voice to the sense many have that Villaraigosa the candidate is less excited—and less exciting—this time around. What we don't get is why that is.
Four years ago, the profile by Hector Tobar was a tad longer and spent more time on Villaraigosa's formative years: leader of a student walkout at Cathedral High, kicked out of school, got himself through UCLA, appointed to the MTA Board by Gloria Molina. Both pieces noted the respect he earned among Republicans in Sacramento.
Just for kicks, the ledes of the 2005 profile and the 2001 profile follow below:
First, the top to the story in today's Times:
In a life marked by steep rises and precipitous falls, Antonio Villaraigosa has often sought redemption.
Four years ago, his quest to become the city's first Latino mayor since 1872 captured international media attention but ended in a crushing and bitter defeat by James K. Hahn.
Since then, Villaraigosa has won a City Council seat representing — among other areas — the Eastside neighborhoods where he grew up. He has endured surgeries and gone back to church. And now, though he pledged he wouldn't do it, Villaraigosa is running again for mayor, hoping for another of the fortunate reversals that have graced his life.
Some things haven't changed. He still gets up at 5 a.m. and hurls himself into the quiet early-morning mist for a series of workouts up and down the hills of his Mount Washington neighborhood, the start of a day that can include a dozen events. His progress across any room, anywhere, is still slowed by endless handshakes, brilliant smiles and slaps on the back.
But if last time Villaraigosa, 52, exploded onto the political stage, the sweep of his life seeming to embody all the possibilities of Los Angeles, this time is different.
The high school dropout who became speaker of the California Assembly is off to a less blazing start. Pundits murmur that, if he loses this time, the once-limitless luster of his political star will dim. There is also unrest closer to home: Last fall, some of his own constituents launched an effort to recall him from his council seat, saying they were outraged that he had reneged on his promise to serve four full years.
And now the top in 2001:
The 1969 yearbook for Cathedral High is a relic from a time when the spirit of rebellion ran so deep, it could even infect a conservative Catholic school on the edge of downtown.
Among the pictures of goateed seniors and juniors in Che Guevara-inspired black berets, there is a nondescript sophomore in a T-shirt and sweater. The young man identified in captions as "A. Villar" was known as a good talker. He was a networker long before that term became popular. He'd hold court in the hallways, making friends with the BMOC upperclassmen, organizing protests against the school dress code.
The man now called Antonio Villaraigosa still has a lot of things in common with that garrulous kid who got kicked out of Cathedral his junior year. More often than not, he's on the side of the underdog. He's talked and charmed his way from a grim Eastside childhood to the pinnacles of power. And whenever he gets himself in trouble--say, for example, with a fortysomething marital infidelity--he can still pull off a deft escape.
Until last year, he was speaker of the California Assembly. From an ornate 19th century office in the Capitol he crafted billion-dollar bonds for new parks and schools. He was a liberal Democrat who won over many of his Republican rivals. Now he wants to be mayor of Los Angeles.
People who have known Villaraigosa marvel at the sweep of his life. The same guy who dropped out of Roosevelt High ran the Assembly, keeping rein on the egos of 80 professional politicians. The man who organized a 1992 teachers protest that nearly shut down Los Angeles International Airport hobnobbed with the big-money players who grease the Capitol machinery. Utility companies, casinos and entertainment executives have all contributed to his campaign coffers.
At 48, Villaraigosa is cashing in on personal and political capital he earned, not just during six years in the Assembly, but also during three decades of working on Los Angeles' grass-roots causes: the late nights spent on others' campaigns in the 1980s and '90s and friendships hewn in high school and college.
Two different styles. You decide which you prefer. The Times is rolling out profiles all week, with Bernard Parks up on Wednesday.