After the sad, infuriating video footage from May 1, Connie Bruck topped her in-the-works profile of Antonio Villaraigosa for this week's New Yorker with a scene of the mayor walking through MacArthur Park, promising justice to the Salvadorans and Mexicans he met. "Those images hit me in the gut," he says in the story, meaning the video of Los Angeles police abusing peaceful ralliers and journalists. He cites one image in particular — "of a young boy, maybe twelve years old, hit again, again, and again, trying to run away" — in a passage that won't endear Villaraigosa to the LAPD hardcore. But as Bruck writes, "his vision of this international city of the future was undercut by the events of May 1st, when the...supposedly new L.A.P.D., reformed and revitalized by Chief Bratton...acted in a manner that recalled infamously brutal moments of the past." Bruck also utters what many have thought: that it was "surely not coincidental that Villaraigosa scheduled a trip that took him away on the day of the rally."
The lengthy profile trods familiar ground for Antonio watchers, describing for the national audience a mayor who is energetic, ambitious, uncomfortable with the immigration issue and looking less invincible after failing to take over the schools and other setbacks. But there's also some good, even juicy, details throughout. The whole thing is online this week. Selected excerpts:
Sometimes the Mayor seems to think that he can wrest the ideal city into existence through sheer kinetic energy. In the Villaraigosa administration, governing looks a lot like campaigning. The Mayor spends a great deal of time away from his office, appearing at half a dozen events most days, and holding multiple press conferences, in both English and Spanish. In times of crisis, his talent for connecting with people is a boon, but at other times it can appear contrived—as when, not long ago, he stepped into a busy major thoroughfare and started knocking on car windows, trying to hand out flyers to startled drivers. At a press conference recently, he noted that there were only five television cameras, and said, irritably, "We had sixteen cameras at the last event!"
His broad coalition has begun to fray, and strains have emerged between him and the African-American community, which was crucial to his election.
His single-minded ambition contains a streak of petty vindictiveness, and he has alienated many who were once enthusiastic supporters. Even among other politicians—not a shy group—his drive for self-aggrandizement sets him apart; and some of his colleagues say that he cannot be trusted in the normal give-and-take of political life. "He wants you when he needs you, and then it's over," a legislator who has known him for many years told me. There are officials who deeply dislike him but hesitate to cross him...."Antonio's pattern is to leave people in the dust," [Tom] Hayden told me. He pointed to Villaraigosa's treatment of Phil Angelides...
After the jump, Bruck fleshes out some details of the notorious affair during Villaraigosa's first campaign for state Assembly, with reaction today from Supervisor Gloria Molina.
Photo: New Yorker / Martin Schoeller
On the night of the primary election, Villaraigosa held a victory party at the Plaza de la Raza, a Latino cultural center. Xavier Becerra, a congressman from Los Angeles, gave a speech praising the courage of Antonio and his wife, Corina, who had been battling thyroid cancer throughout the campaign.
The next morning, Corina phoned friends, asking if they had any idea where Antonio was. She learned that he had left town for a few days with the wife of one of their close friends.
Villaraigosa's supporters were outraged. The Macho Dogs held a meeting; some wanted their money back, and there was talk of recalling him. Many were appalled at his recklessness. He had run as a family man, sending out pictures of himself with Corina and their two small children. (He also has two older daughters, whom he helps support, from relationships before he was married.) Initially, Villaraigosa defended his actions, saying, "It is a matter of the heart." He eventually acknowledged his error. That did not help much with many people, including his wife, who remained estranged from him for two and a half years. "He was a pariah," [Sen. Gilbert] Cedillo told me....
Perhaps no supporter was more upset than Gloria Molina. "It was a mix of anger and unbelievable disappointment, because we had worked so hard," she said. And she felt that Villaraigosa had betrayed a public as well as a private trust. "I so value these positions," Molina, who is now a county supervisor, said. "There are very few of us who have the opportunity to represent these people, and there just has to be a respect for the role you're undertaking."
As speaker, Villaraigosa acquired new friends who happened to be billionaires: Ronald Burkle, the supermarket magnate; Roland Arnall, the founder of Ameriquest, one of the biggest sub-prime lenders in the country (which recently agreed to pay $325 million to settle accusations of predatory lending practices); and Eli Broad, a leading Los Angeles philanthropist in the fields of education, scientific research, and the arts. He also formed a close friendship with Keith Brackpool, a British-born businessman, who had previously pleaded guilty to securities fraud in England, and who was promoting a California water-storage scheme that could have brought him hundreds of millions of dollars if the state had approved it. With these companions, Villaraigosa travelled on private jets and developed a taste for expensive wine. (When he summoned the sommelier at a restaurant recently, a friend joked, "Antonio, I knew you when you drank Manischewitz!") According to one legislator (though Villaraigosa denies it), he even began getting out of his car "in an almost regal way," extending his arms while waiting for his driver, a highway-patrol officer, to help him into his jacket.
A few months ago, the Times reported that he had stopped wearing his wedding ring, and quoted him denying rumors that he and his wife had separated. (His aides said that the ring was slipping off his finger, because of his weight loss.) Villaraigosa also said, "In a twenty-year marriage, there are many ups and downs." He started wearing his ring again, but rumors of marital troubles persist.