Submitted Jan. 18, 2007
BY TONY CASTRO
Something looked different about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who looked tired even as he forced a smile and gripped the podium top with a hand on each side. It was more than the county seal on the front of the podium and the name imprinted above it: Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. It took a moment and maybe it only became obvious if you were looking for the smallest of tale-tell signs.
His left hand was missing the distinct gold wedding band that his wife Corina picked out for him and which he has worn for most of the past 19 years.
The date was Jan. 16, 2007, a week before the mayor’s birthday. He would commemorate turning 54. But the nagging question raised by the missing wedding band was whether he and Corina would celebrate their 20th anniversary later in the year.
Something looked different about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who looked tired even as he forced a smile and gripped the podium top with a hand on each side. It was more than the county seal on the front of the podium and the name imprinted above it: Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
It took a moment and maybe it only became obvious if you were looking for the smallest of tale-tell signs.
At City Hall, Villaraigosa denied the absence of his wedding ring signalled any problems in his marriage. His office said Villaraigosa stopped wearing his ring because he had recently lost weight and had not had time to have the ring resized.
Historically, the coverage of marital troubles in the marriages of Los Angeles politicians has made for queezy stomachs among local mainstream journalists.
The 2003 breakup of then Mayor James K. Hahn, for instance, received scant coverage and apparently was first reported in a dot-dash column of The Wave, a community weekly in South Los Angeles which had long been a Hahn family stronghold.
“If Los Angeles worked like New York City, competitive pressures already would have flushed out any gossip involving the mayor,” Jewish Journal senior editor Howard Blume wrote at the time in his publication.
“Why is it in Los Angeles that the personal life of actor Robert Blake looms more newsworthy than the mayor’s? Is it a reflection of Los Angeles’ civic culture that the mayor barely seems to qualify as a public figure?”
Although reporters at the Daily News refused to pursue the story, Ron Kaye, then the managing editor and now editor of the paper, wanted to report the story and told Blume:
“If you’re going to step on the stage, you risk being totally exposed or revealed. I think the public should know fully the story of who Hahn is. And what his life is like and what happened to it. I think we have a right to know.
“Why do we talk about the personal lives of presidential candidates? It’s not because it’s the most important thing. We’re interested, and it becomes a form of symbolic language. When you step into the role of mayor in the media and glamour capital, you become part of the conversation.”
Today, says media ethicist Kelly McBride of The Poynter Institute, the issue is one “most editors in traditional newsrooms would say (that) if there is a legitimate public interet in a public official’ marriage, we’ll cover it.
“Who’s living in governor’s mansion, who’s accompanying him to public functions? Are there allegations of immoral behavior? How will this affect his ability to do his job?
“Who’s the first lady of the city or of the state if he were to run for governor? A candidate’s spouse is often the subject of scrutiny because politicians run as a package. So that would be of legitimate public interest.”
If not wearing your wedding ban that you’ve worn for years is an indication of problems in a relationship, the Villaraigosa marriage hit the skids sometime late last summer, a little after a year after the mayor took office.
A review of photographs from several image services indicates that the mayor was last seen wearing his wedding ban last Sept. 5, at a major Los Angeles campaign rally for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides.
Hundreds of photographs of the mayor prior to that date showed him wearing a wedding ban, and photographs since that date show him without one.
And the last time the mayor and the city’s First Lady were photographed together was last May 26, when they appeared with then Mexican President Vicente Fox and his wife Marta Sahagun while they were in Los Angeles.
In the months afterward, at the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Aug. 27 the mayor arrived with 13-year-old daughter Natalia and at the 75th annual Hollywood Christmas Parade -- where the Villaraigosas rode together in the grand marshal’s car the previous year -- the mayor appeared with only his daughter and 17-year-old son Antonio Jr.
It was never a storybook marriage, though the news media’s retelling of how they combined their respective last names into a new one that would become historic in Los Angeles politics would give it a romantic fairy-tale aspect all its own.
In 1987, Antonio Villar, then a labor organizer, had proposed to Corina Raigosa, a 30-year-old Montebello school teacher, whom he described in a 2005 interview as the woman “I pursued relentlessly because I knew she was the woman I wanted to marry.”
“I was planning to take his name,” Corina later recalled. “I was planning to become Corina Villar. (But) he said, ‘Really? You’re going to take my name? But Raigosa is your name.’”
Corina thought about it and decided to keep her name, but also add his name, connecting them with a hyphen.
“I figured he was right,” she said. “This was my name. I had it for 30 years. This is who I am.”
Antonio mulled her decision for several days, then came up with another idea.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” she recalled him telling her, “and why don’t we combine our names to make one name? If you are willing to take my name, I should be willing to take yours.’”
In feminist circles, especially, the story became a political plus.
But by the time, Antonio emerged as a household name in Los Angeles, the story of his marital infidelity leading to Corina fililng for divorce had become as well-known as the account of how they had combined their last names.
In 1994, on the weekend leading up to Antonio’s first election to public office, Corina Villaraigosa learned of an affair her husband was having with the wife of a Latino judge, who once had been Antonio’s study partner for the bar exam -- and who was helping raise money for Villaraigosa’s campaign.
Corina, who had been recovering from cancer surgery and treatment, filed for divorce just one day after Antonio won a hotly-contested election to the state Assembly. For the next two years, they lived apart before Corina, faced with the prospect of raising their two young children, took her husband back.