Political Pickup Lines & Romancing LA

Can It Be Nearly a Dozen Years Since Villaraigosa Was Mayor?

The man who often gushed when recalling that London’s Guardian newspaper had called him the ‘Latino Tony Blair’ was like a windup toy never too shy to reel off an Oscar-like speech thanking all those who made him who he was. And the list was endless.


If he had a failing, it may be that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa needed to be loved by everyone. He wanted to be everything to everybody. It was a need that approached neurosis, a need for acceptance that a shrink likely would attribute to the dysfunctional relationship that he had with his father.
Villaraigosa probably would qualify it as being with his earthly father, although even there he has some confusion over his origin — or, to be more precise, his political genesis.
Don’t worry about my pontificating about Antonio. If it weren’t that I am his biographer, it is as the mayor once pointed to a group of journalists when he said I knew him the longest and the best, or words to that effect.
Though my editor is now wondering whether I do. He called to point out page 4,044 of my Villaraigosa manuscript.
“You quote the mayor,” he said, “saying, ‘I’m here today as mayor, the first from my community, on the shoulders of Rosa Parks…”
Yeah, Antonio was eulogizing the civil rights icon at her funeral in Detroit. So?
“Well,” the sharp-eyed editor noted, “on page 3,682, you quote the mayor saying, “I’m here on the shoulders of the late congressman Ed Roybal. I’m mayor because of this great man.
“And on page 3,116, you quote the mayor saying, ‘I am here today as mayor because of former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley…
“And on page 2,733, you quote the mayor saying, ‘I am here today because of the indomitable spirit and the boundless faith of my mother, Natalia Delgado.
“Then on page 2,192, he says, ‘I’m here today because of the support of one great teacher, Herman Katz…
“And on page 1,416, you have Villaraigosa saying, ‘I’m here because of the love and devotion and support of my wife Corina…
“And on page 849, shortly after he’s elected to the California Legislature, Villaraigosa is quoted saying, ‘I’m here today because of the great Latina leader Gloria Molina…”
I was getting my editor’ drift. Villaraigosa either has had lousy speechwriters or one lousy memory.
Not that there was plagiarism involved because Villaraigosa has only been stealing his own words. He was like the guy using the same pickup lines because he knows they work. Remember former President Bill Clinton and all those women who came out of the woodwork in the 1992 campaign to say that the then governor of Arkansas had propositioned them? It always seemed to be in a hotel room, and they all told stories in which he used practically the same lines. And they all fell for them.
That’s politics. Political consultants often use the same tried-and-true strategies but with different candidates in different states and with a different set of reporters unaware these are political pickup lines.
But Villaraigosa was working in the vacuum of one city, and he had not been very clever in using the same line over and over again — as to whom he owes for being where he is today.
To his credit, I told my editor, there were times when he didn’t use that same line when he could have, with a remarkable degree of accuracy.
Villaraigosa could have said, “I’m here today on the shoulders of former legislator Robert Hertzberg,” when he adopted some of his ideas of former roommate and fellow mayoral candidate and passed them off as his own during the mayor’s campaign.
The mayor could have said, “I’m here today because of Jim Hahn because if he hadn’t been such a self-destructive mayor, I might never have had a second chance.”
And he has never said, “I’m here because of billionaire Eli Broad because if he hadn’t given me a high-paying consulting job after losing the mayor’s race in 2001, I might never have afforded the standard of living that kept me in designer suits and my kids in private schools while I figured out what to do next.”
Just as he could have said, “I’m there today because of Nick Pacheco for setting off his political assault dogs with such a mean and vicious personal attack that he ruined whatever chance he had in our 2003 City Council race.”
And he’s never said, “I’m here because of Loyola Marymount Professor Fernando Guerra, who was quoted often as saying favorable things about me to the Los Angeles Times, without ever letting the Times know he was a registered City Hall lobbyist currying favor with me as a lap dog.”
And at the Rosa Parks memorial in Detroit, where he uttered his “shoulders of Rosa Parks” remark, he could have easily also said, “And I’m here today on the wings of Ameriquest, which flew me here on a private jet, even though the company has a City Hall lobbyist pressing its interests with me — a violation of city ethics laws.”
But then again, this was a mayor who needed to be loved by everyone, which reminds me of an old friend who needed to be loved by every woman he dated. He would send them roses, all with the same notes, and he would wine and dine them the same way. He would even send them the same book of gushy Rod McKuen poetry. The women didn’t know each other, so there was no way he could be exposed.
But one day, my friend met the woman of his dreams — and courted her the same way he had all the others. In the end, although he truly loved her, she dumped him and broke his heart.
I had tea with her one day and asked why she had spurned my best friend’s love, when he cared so much.
She said the flowers, the dinners, the notes and the poetry were all beautiful.
But they had all just seemed too rehearsed.
In the end, she didn’t believe any of it.

TONY CASTRO, the former award-winning Los Angeles columnist and author of “Chicano Power” (E.P. Dutton, 1974), is an editor-at-large with the Los Angeles Independent. “Chicano Power” will be republished in a 50th anniversary edition in late 2024. He can be reached at tony@tonycastro.com.

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