Rocky Road

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It's not every week that we witness a political career spin out and crash as spectacularly as Rocky Delgadillo's. If you missed it, he is the city attorney for Los Angeles –- and his image has taken a really bad hit lately.

The LA Times began asking questions about who was driving Delgadillo's city car -– a big GMC Yukon – when it suffered damage in the garage at Cedars-Sinai hospital.

Simple enough, except that Delgadillo's answers were clumsily evasive -– so the reporters had to keep digging.

Evidence mounted that Delgadillo was out of town when the damage occurred, and that his wife Michelle was at Cedars for an appointment that day. OK, wives are not supposed to drive city vehicles on personal business. That's a containable story, if you handle it right.

But Delgadillo and his advisers did not. The nice term is that he dissembled, until the stonewalling began to look amateurish.

Reporters then came up with the detail that Michelle Delgadillo had a suspended driver's license. She was caught driving without insurance.

Oh, and there was an arrest warrant out for not appearing on an earlier ticket. Did I mention that the City Attorney also had been driving without insurance?  In California, that is against the law.

Michelle finally pleaded no contest and got a year's probation, plus the humiliation of Times columnist Steve Lopez offering to drive her around town.

It might not have looked so bad for Rocky if he were not the city's top legal adviser –- and if he had not publicly demanded hard time for Paris Hilton. Her offense, you might remember, was driving on a suspended license.

I'm not surprised that Delgadillo got himself in this fix. He is his own worst enemy.

He was once the Great Latino Hope of the downtown establishment. Tall with a square jaw and wide shoulders, he looked the part. Like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Delgadillo grew up on the Eastside.

But where Villaraigosa's life story features a broken home and troubles at school,  Delgadillo followed the straight and narrow path.

He lettered in four sports at high school and was student body president. Then it was off to Harvard and Columbia Law School. Delgadillo landed in the entertainment practice of O'Melveny & Myers, LA's oldest law firm, and caught the eye of gray eminence Warren Christopher.

A job on Mayor Riordan's economic development team opened doors and allowed Delgadillo to nurture relationships with the likes of  Eli Broad -– money men who could help him get into politics.

In 2001, Delgadillo became the first Mexican American elected citywide in modern times.  Almost immediately, there were warning signs that Delgadillo's talent might not match his ego.

He staged too many empty photo ops and burned through staffers.

His ambition to climb the ladder was so blatant that top advisers referred to themselves as Team 1600 -- as in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the address of the White House. After he won easy reelection, they hoped Rocky could go all the way.

Well, reality check came when Delgadillo ran for state attorney general last year against Jerry Brown, the former governor.

It was a slaughter. Delgadillo's hometown newspapers endorsed against him. The Times declared him unprepared for the job, while the LA Weekly wondered aloud if he were "a well-meaning cornball" or "a shameless phony."

When it came out that his resume had always been inflated, many voters thad their answer.

For years he claimed to have earned a Harvard football scholarship, but Harvard didn't give those in his day. The pro-football experience he claimed amounted to a failed tryout with the New York Giants and a brief appearance at  training camp in the Canadian Football League.

In a piece in April's Los Angeles Magazine, I suggested that Delgadillo's political career was in jeopardy. Now, even in a city where barely passable politicians last forever, Rocky Delgadillo may have reached his expiration date.

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