A Latino Star Shines Less Brightly

Maria L. La Ganga and Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2007

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Over the last decade, the city’s government has finally started to reflect its demographics. Los Angeles, with a Latino population of nearly 50%, has a city attorney named Rocky Delgadillo and a City Council on which five of 15 members are of Mexican descent.

But the telegenic [Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa, one of the highest-profile Latino politicians in America and a likely future candidate for governor, has been the undisputed star. Shortly after his election as the first Latino mayor of modern Los Angeles, he made the cover of Newsweek, with the headline: “Latino Power.” Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton bragged in May when she snared his endorsement.

In recent weeks, though, pride has turned to disappointment and wariness among some Latino voters as two promising political stars landed in the headlines at the same time for all the wrong reasons—Villaraigosa for his infidelity and Delgadillo for a widening scandal that included his wife’s banging up a city car, driving with a suspended license and ignoring a warrant for her arrest.

It is too early to tell whether their troubles will cost the two men allegiance among Latinos, who voted en masse for Villaraigosa in 2005, helping to hand him a landslide victory over Mayor James K. Hahn. Some voters, however, worried Thursday that the City Hall scandals could harm future Latino candidates and other Democrats.

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Political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said that the current uproar at City Hall is, in a perverse way, proof that Latino politicians have made it to the big time here.

“Latinos have reached a certain level in politics,” Jeffe said. “They are visible, powerful, numerous and open to the kind of media scrutiny they haven’t had to deal with before.”

Mario Hernandez, a 32-year-old administrative assistant in downtown Los Angeles, worried that the extramarital affair the mayor admitted to earlier this week could hurt his image and possibly hurt his political chances—whether for reelection or a run for governor in 2010.

Hernandez was less forgiving of Delgadillo, whom he called a hypocrite for insisting that socialite Paris Hilton serve her full sentence for driving on a suspended license, even though his wife had also driven without a license and failed to show up in court.

Delgadillo “was going out of his way to make Paris an example, and here he was not being honest about his wife and then having [staffers] baby-sit his kids,” Hernandez said. “He was abusing his power and using city money improperly.”

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Former City Councilman Richard Alatorre, who left public office after pleading guilty to tax evasion in 2001, was one of the few current or former Latino elected officials willing to talk on the record about the City Hall furor that has riveted Los Angeles. While the recent revelations aren’t unique to Latino politicians, he said, he believes that Latino leaders are held to a higher standard of behavior.

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At the Brooklyn Hair Styler on Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights, Delgadillo’s woes didn’t even register with owner Maria Garcia. But she had little patience for the mayor’s problems.

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