My cover story on Antonio Villaraigosa's first eighteen months as mayor has gone online at the still-in-transition Los Angeles magazine website. The piece delves into the roots of the mayor's street popularity, his compromise on takeover of L.A. Unified and how Villaraigosa the man and the politician cuts a different profile these days. Excerpt:
Los Angeles is enthralled with the commanding figure that Antonio Villaraigosa has become. He has grown into a larger, more likable presence than many of us expected. He’s not just the termed-out state assembly speaker whose rebound strategy after losing his first bid for mayor was to phone in two years as a councilman. Not so long ago whole segments of the city feared him. He was a labor organizer from East L.A., an ACLU liberal with a cocky ego who carried on an extramarital affair while his wife was battling cancer. There are still some rough edges to smooth, but he has become our proof that someone can change...
Talk-show shouters and xenophobic bloggers label him an ex-gangbanger or an Aztlán nationalist. That’s a hilarious misreading to friends and to Villaraigosa—“My mother would have killed me!” Look a little closer and you will see an L.A. baby boomer, Eastside variety....The fluent Spanish that Villaraigosa brandishes at press conferences? He struggled to pick it up as an adult. (French was his high school foreign language.) He still tries to perfect his Spanish syntax by listening to ballads downloaded on his iPod. He carries a BlackBerry, takes his wife to shows at the ArcLight, and enjoys a fine cabernet sauvignon with the occasional meal at Water Grill or Patina. At 53, he is fit enough for any red carpet, and like many boomers he slaves to maintain his physique. Villaraigosa claims to do an hour of abdominal crunches, push-ups, and cardio each morning, starting most days at 5:15. Moussed hair, silk ties, and expensive suits complete the look.
“He’s just a tougher person,” says Garcetti. “He’s tougher about life in general, and he’s willing to show people that he’s tougher.” Others, though, fume that “Antonio has changed,” and they talk of betrayal. They complain that he has become more aloof and gotten caught up in the trappings of the office. Some who knew Villaraigosa before he became a big shot snickered loudest when the L.A. Times printed a staff memo that spelled out how aides should greet the mayor in the field—with hand sanitizers, room-temperature bottled water, green tea prepared just so, and a supply of Listerine breath strips. The story also described Villaraigosa ordering foie gras at a downtown restaurant and commenting that one $140 bottle of wine was a good value. “Not too many metrosexuals came out of Boyle Heights,” a longtime acquaintance quips.
Also online from the December issue are Mark Lacter's story on the federal investigation into Ralphs' strike tactics, Greg Goldin's piece on the unfortunate siting of the new LAPD headquarters downtown and Leslee Komaiko's survey of the best toy stores in L.A.