Mayor Miscue

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

At this year's Grammy awards, two giant media planets left their own orbits and collided. A photographer at the Universal Music after-party snapped the mayor of Los Angeles -- Antonio Villaraigosa -- discussing something with an adoring Paris Hilton.

Catching the city's most promiscuous camera hogs chatting smile to smile was a moment made for mocking.

At we couldn't pass it up. Readers were invited to email their guesses at what the pair were saying. Some were crude, most just funny.

For example, Paris might have said to the mayor: "You're married to Melanie Griffith, right? That's hot."

Or Villaraigosa could have quipped, "What a coincidence! I'm not wearing underwear either!"

Readers loved it, but there was an edge to the comments. Several compared Villaraigosa to Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco mayor who had just admitted to having an affair with the wife of his campaign manager.

I was reminded of that thread this week after Villaraigosa disclosed that his marriage of almost 20 years was dead. He timed his revelation for the same day that the media was absorbed with Hilton being hauled back to jail sobbing.

What struck me was how few insiders in politics and the local press corps seemed surprised.

Sure, he had run as a family man and walked to City Hall on swearing-in day with Corina and their children. But they have not appeared together in public in many months.

Since mid-last year, according to Tony Castro of the Daily News. He noticed that the mayor stopped wearing his wedding ring last September.

Villaraigosa put the ring back on in February after a blogger, Luke Ford, speculated that the mayoral union was kaput. Pressed by the Times, Villaraigosa fed the paper a story that everything was fine and he had stopped wearing the ring because -- get this -- he had lost weight.

On Monday, Villaraigosa met the media and took the blame for the marriage falling apart. But any details were left to our imaginations. Nor did he apologize for that misleading, and lame, excuse about slimming down.

After asking for questions, Villaraigosa refused to answer the obvious one -- raised first by Channel 4's Laurel Erickson. Had the mayor had any affairs while in office?

He called the question inappropriate, a private matter between himself and his family. And perhaps it is, but it's a question that a lot of people are going to want answered before they ever vote for him again.

That's because the question comes with a subtext, and could have been asked of Villaraigosa this way: are the rumors true that, after Corina took you back once, you have been straying again?

The history, revisited last month in The New Yorker, is that Villaraigosa was caught cheating before. Aggravated cheating, you might call it.

Corina had thyroid cancer at the time. But on the morning after Villaraigosa won his first primary election, that was for state Assembly, she had to call around town looking for her husband.

She learned he had left town with the wife of a mutual friend.

It took years for all the wounds to heal, in the family and in the culture of Eastside Latino politics. The men around Villaraigosa tended to give him a pass, but women such as Gloria Molina, who is now a powerful county Supervisor, turned noticeably cool.

Antonio's rising power helped many get past the episode. But Corina is out. On Tuesday she filed for divorce.

The mayor's aides aren't trying to spin it as a half step. They acknowledge that this time, the marriage is over. They might even be relieved, since for months -- at least -- they have been part of the charade.

With each fresh story, the reporters who work City Hall drop new hints that they know more than they can print.

Me, I don't know whether the mayor has girlfriends. I just hear the rumors. But I feel pretty certain that the Antonio Villaraigosa who runs for governor in a few years will be viewed differently than the one who ran for mayor.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

Photo: Al Seib-Pool/Getty Images