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City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa is interviewed by... (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
months of dodging questions about the breakup of his marriage, Mayor
Antonio Villaraigosa acknowledged Monday that he is involved in a
romantic relationship with television newswoman Mirthala Salinas.
Since January, the mayor has repeatedly faced questioning that began
when reporters noticed he and his wife, Corina, had stopped making
public appearances together and his gold wedding band was missing from
his ring finger.
The mayor glibly rebuffed all probes when the questions reached a peak
in January, and aides said he had been working out a lot and lost
weight so the ring was at the jeweler's getting resized.
But with the Daily News set to publish a story about his relationship
with Salinas, an anchorwoman and reporter for NBC-Telemundo (Channel
52), and his mother-in-law's account of the climactic moment in his
marriage, Villaraigosa issued the following statement:
"It is true that I have a relationship with Ms. Mirthala Salinas. As
I've said I take full responsibility for my actions, and I once again
ask that people respect my family's privacy. For my part, I intend to
stay focused on my job, and to work as hard as I can every day to be
the best mayor I can be."
Salinas did not respond to repeated
requests for an interview.
Back in January, the buzz of the mayor's marital trouble reached a
fever pitch, prompting Villaraigosa to give an unnamed Los Angeles
Times reporter an interview at Getty House, calling the reports
"absolutely not true" and adding, "We are not separated."
But when Corina raised the same question about her husband's wedding ring, she got a very different answer.
Basically, he said it was none of her business, according to Corina's 88-year-old mother, Manuela Raigosa.
"At first he said he didn't want to talk about it," she said in Spanish during a telephone interview last week.
"When she approached him again, he said that they could stay in the
house and he would move out (of Getty House) ... and if they didn't
like it, he would leave."
For the sometimes rocky marriage of the mayor and his wife, who merged
their surnames Villar and Raigosa when they married some 20 years ago,
it was the beginning of the end.
Last month, the couple formally separated and three days later the
mayor held a press conference to say he was taking responsibility for
what happened, and that he felt a "personal sense of failure about it."
But he deflected inquiries about the reasons for the split and said his
primary concern is for the couple's two teenage children, Antonio Jr.
and Natalie Fe.
A day later, Corina filed for divorce citing "irreconcilable differences."
Corina's mom said her daughter is so upset that she said she'll take
steps to have her name legally changed back to Raigosa. Corina told her
she didn't want to talk about all the details because she didn't want
to upset her mom.
Corina has recently been out of town, her mom said. Corina, through the Mayor's Office, declined an interview.
Unlike when the low-key James Hahn's marriage fell apart during the
second year of his term as mayor and the press discretely gave him a
pass, the break-up of the charismatic Villaraigosa's marriage sent
dozens of newspaper and television reporters and paparazzi scurrying
for the story behind the story.
That had a lot to do with Villaraigosa's high-profile visibility and his reputation as something of a womanizer.
Much of the gossip from City Hall insiders and speculation on Internet
blogs has focused on Salinas as the other woman in the mayor's life.
Salinas, an attractive woman in her mid-30s, is a 6 p.m. news anchor and on-camera reporter for the Spanish language station.
Villaraigosa and Salinas have appeared together at several events,
particularly those oriented toward Latino politics and culture, but
neither friends nor enemies report seeing public displays of affection
Still, there was evidence of a close relationship.
The mayor has been sighted at Salinas' upscale Studio City town house in recent months, a neighbor told the Daily News.
When Salinas' mom, Yolanda Avila Fernandez, died in early January the
mayor cleared his usually hectic calendar and went to Phoenix for the
Evette Lopez, a roommate of Salinas' sister, said she met Villaraigosa
when he attended the service and joined the family afterward.
The mayor, she said, arrived separately from Salinas and her sister.
"He is a very, very nice man," Lopez said.
Lynn Lawrence, director at the Greer-Wilson Funeral Home where Fernandez's visitation was held, also recalled the mayor.
"I remember him being introduced as the mayor to some of the people," Lawrence said.
The mayor's official calendar shows his usually frenetic schedule of
public events across Los Angeles was cleared out Jan. 6 and Jan. 7. The
only entries on it were blacked out, as is done when the mayor has
personal matters slated.
Salinas, a backup anchor and general news correspondent, moved off the
political beat, which includes coverage of the mayor, about 11 months
ago, said Telemundo spokesman Alfredo Richard.
"I believe she did not cover the mayor since her new assignment," Richard said.
Richard said the move from political correspondent to backup anchor and
general correspondent was intended as an expansion of Salinas'
responsibilities at the station.
He said company policy prohibits any comment on employees' personal lives.
"We think she is a great reporter and professional," Richard said.
The turmoil is not the first for the Villaraigosas. In 1994, they
separated and Corina, who had been battling thyroid cancer, filed for
divorce after Villaraigosa had an affair.
In a May edition of The New Yorker magazine the mayor's womanizing was
alluded to, with writer Connie Bruck describing how on the night of his
1994 Democratic primary victory he left town with the wife of one of
the Villaraigosas' close friends.
Villaraigosa, the article said, initially defended the affair as a "matter of the heart," but later admitted it was an error.
One political insider predicted any hint of scandal will make Villaraigosa's political climb tougher, but not impossible.
"He's tenacious, he keeps fighting and fighting and fighting. He fights
for his image, and that's a big factor. He doesn't crawl up in a shell.
He's hard to keep down."
Joe Cerrell, a political consultant often viewed as the dean of city
politics, said it may be a "new era" where personal indiscretions are
more easily tolerated and even political enemies are reluctant to take
"People love gossip, but I don't know that it hurts," Cerrell said.
"Bill Clinton is being used all this week in Iowa by Hillary ... They
must have done some polling to say it's a plus, and he was president of
the United States in the White House."
Minerva Hernandez and Nancy Dillon contributed to this report. Beth Barrett, (818) 713-3731