The Resistible Rise of Antonio V

By Jim Smith

The hero of a million kids in the barrios is in trouble. But unlike Superman struggling to overcome the kryptonite planted by an evil villain, Antonio's fall is one of his own making.

His fake fairy tale romance with Corina Raigosa, with his resulting name change from Antonio Ramon Villar, Jr. to Antonio Villaraigosa ended officially on June 8, followed in July by the announcement that he had been having an affair with Telemundo anchor Mirthala Salinas. Should he now be called Antonio Villasalinas? The affair was an open secret to insiders at L.A.'s city hall (as is his rumored - but yet to be announced - affair with another young woman), but to Venetians and others in the hinterlands it was a shock.

Here in Venice, where free love was practically invented, not many of us care about Antonio's affairs except as more examples of his duplicity. In 2005, Antonio had seemed like a savior to Venetians, winning 74 percent of the vote against incumbent Jim Hahn. Yet the bloom was quickly off the rose as the new mayor began acting much like the old mayor.

A few months after his inauguration, it was disclosed that Antonio had ridden a corporate jet owned by Ameriquest to the Detroit funeral of civil rights icon, Rosa Parks, no less. And just recently, it came out that he had spent a few hours with Mirthala Salinas before climbing on the waiting jet. Did he tell Corina that he had to leave early to catch an airliner?

In spite of his lowly beginnings in the working class neighborhood of City Terrace, Antonio has always been a player. He had already fathered two girls before he married Corina in 1987. He was sometimes in trouble with the authorities as he was growing up. But he and boyhood chum, Gilbert Cedillo, dreamed of someday playing in the big leagues of politics. Unfortunately for Antonio, he thought he could play with the big boys, and be a player, at the same time.

He took to wearing expensive suits, driving new cars and, with his entourage, being the center of attraction at tony restaurants and nightclubs from Pasadena to Venice. At Peoples College of Law, he was a classmate of Maria Elena Durazo, who shared much of his ambition. She later became the Executive Secretary of the L.A. AFL-CIO, after her husband Miguel Contreras, who had held the office, died of a heart attack under unusual circumstances. Maria Elena could not be part of Antonio's entourage because of her gender. It's for boys only. But Antonio did form a firm alliance with Fabian Nuñez, who as political director was the brains of the AFL-CIO's election strategy.

Fabian and Antonio remain close today. When Antonio was termed out as Speaker of the Assembly, he passed it on to Fabian. When Fabian's affair with Mithala was over, he passed her on to Antonio. Fabian, always the smartest kid on the block, saw a train wreck down the track and returned to his wife.

Many things get passed around within our unaccountable power structure. But one of the entourage refused to play. Even though he shared a lifetime of association with Antonio, Gilbert Cedillo was not willing to step aside for the future mayor who had set his eyes on the 22nd State Senate seat in 2001 for which Gilbert had already announced.

Cedillo, who had been one of the most respected labor leaders in L.A. before he entered politics felt Antonio had gone too far. Gilbert refused to back down, forcing Antonio to run for city council. He saw Antonio's actions as a betrayal of trust. When Antonio ran for mayor in 2005, Gilbert endorsed Mayor Hahn, thereby announcing the end of their 30 year friendship.

Antonio's fall from grace won him a “D” grade on his mid-term report card in last month's Beachhead. Unconfirmed sources said that he was a no-show at the Venice Fest dedication of the Venice sign on Windward Blvd. last month because he didn't want to get booed as he has been in other parts of the city lately. But it wasn't Antonio's dalliances that turned many Venetians against him.

His failure to spend political capital in support of the Lincoln Place tenants when they were evicted and turning his back on the South Central Farmers when they were dispossessed, not to mention leaving City Council Member Bill Rosendahl twisting in the wind on his proposed moratorium on condo conversions had a much bigger impact than where he spends his nights.

Perhaps if some of the South Central Farmers had looked like Mithala, they would still be farming. And if some of the Lincoln Place tenants had private jets to make available to Antonio, they would still be enjoying their garden apartments.

Antonio's story is one that Hollywood, and generations of movie goers, know very well. It starts with a poor kid from the slums who has great dreams for improving the lives of his people. He rises to the top of the heap, but is seduced by the power, money and women he finds there. His people are devastated by his betrayal. At last, a crisis happens that makes him see the light and fight for his people, sometimes at great personal risk. By the late 70s, the genre was so overdone that Steve Martin made a parody of it in the movie, The Jerk.

Antonio is not a jerk. But is he destined to redeem himself like the heros of earlier movies? Or will he end up like the subject of Bertolt Brecht's play, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” who becomes more and more disreputable until he ends up the paragon of evil? And will we watch the drama unfold like passive movie goers or will we hold Antonio, and all the others, accountable to those of us who voted with such high hopes?

Posted: Wed - August 1, 2007 at 12:00 PM