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Archive for Saturday, July 7, 2007

L.A. mayor’s affair with reporter makes headlines

Telemundo TV newscaster placed on leave

July 7, 2007

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— Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa likes to say "dream with me," but it's hard to hear those words these days without a collective snicker.

The telegenic mayor known for his Chiclet smile and boyish energy has run out on his wife and taken up with a sultry TV newscaster who announced the mayor's separation on the air.

Two years ago, Villaraigosa walked city streets with his wife and two kids in hand and Cardinal Roger Mahoney at his side after being sworn in. Now front pages are filled with tales of his affair and the mayor's less-than-forthright answers about the illicit romance.

Who cares about California's wildfire season when the mayor is fueling one of his own?

A Los Angeles Times headline dubbed it City Hall's "summer of love." The top story in the Daily News on Tuesday: the other woman revealed.

"It's one thing for your marriage to fall apart. It's another to be dating the anchor of the biggest Spanish news channel who had covered City Hall. It doesn't look right," said Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The 54-year-old mayor has gone underground since Tuesday, when he confirmed he was seeing anchorwoman Mirthala Salinas, 35.

"It's true, I have a relationship with Ms. Salinas," the mayor told reporters at a news conference that veered from somber to testy. "I don't believe that the details of my personal life are relevant to my job as mayor."

In terms of visibility, Los Angeles politics has long taken a back seat to Hollywood. But Villaraigosa was an exception. He was charismatic, eager for the limelight and discussing big ideas.

After he was elected, the Democrat made the cover of Newsweek under the headline "Latino Power." He was a marquee name in Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, and he's filling a similar role for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Rumors about trouble in his home had persisted for months. The mayor's marriage had been bumpy. His wife, Corina, filed for divorce in 1994 after he had a fling, but the couple reconciled after a two-and-a-half year split.

Earlier this year, he stopped wearing his wedding ring, which was blamed on weight loss. He denied his marriage was in trouble. Then he was forced to confirm his relationship with Salinas as the Daily News prepared to publish a story on their affair.

He used to get grilled by reporters about the city's lousy schools. Now he gets asked if his girlfriend is pregnant.

"Outrageous," he boiled, and said she was not.

The mayor himself instigated some of the round-the-clock coverage. He pleaded for privacy when he announced his separation last month, then held a news conference to discuss the split.

He said he would not change his last name, which is a merger of his previous name, Villar, and his wife's, Raigosa.

Salinas, who was placed on leave by Telemundo while the company investigates whether the affair breached journalistic ethics, has a record of dating prominent politicians, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, the mayor's close friend.

Nunez dated her for about six months in late 2003 and early 2004, after he was divorced.

"It was a brief dating relationship," Nunez spokesman Steve Maviglio said.

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