Somewhere between the helicopter-filled days when Paris Hilton was released – and returned – to prison and the 10-day Fourth of July weekend, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa learned a lesson that should be imparted to all politicians in the new media environment: love yourself, warts and all.
Rumors have persisted since January that the mayor had been in a more-than-friendly relationship with Telemundo news anchor Mirthala Salinas. But even when Salinas herself used a telling phrase - “the rumors are true,” – as she covered news of Villaraigosa’s June separation from wife Corinna, the back stories remained nothing more than speculative.
Perhaps hoping to avoid releasing any more “bad” news, the mayor’s office opted for the slow drip of news rather than full disclosure. But that seems to have triggered a not-so-slow drip of rumors flying through the Internet on L.A. insider sites like Luke Ford and Mayor Sam.
The rumors run from the laughable – Villaraigosa is sleeping with press secretary Janelle Erickson – to wishful thinking for some – linking him to his other, gay male, press secretary. There’s been the medically impossible, thanks to a vasectomy: that he has impregnated planning commissioner Sabrina Kay, forcing the later to release a denial. And the plausible; should Salinas, a native of Mexico lose her employment at Telemundo, she may risk deportation if she were on a work visa in the United States and needed to stay employed to remain in this country.
The whole thing follows a kind of odd logic. Because the rumors linking Villaraigosa and Salinas persisted, even though there was plenty of confusion, they turned out to be true and paved the way for an almost anything-goes state of affairs. In this climate, people can say just about anything about Villaraigosa and his personal life and it is presumed to be true until denied.
Villaraigosa’s case should be instructive to other candidates seeking public office. I’m thinking of potential Republican contender Fred Thompson.
Although a number of conservatives see Thompson as the third coming of George W. Bush, there are quiet whisper campaigns alleging that Thompson may be a tad more, um, liberal than thought, both with his personal life and his politics. For instance, when asked whether he had represented the pro-abortion group NARAL, Thompson chose to dodge the issue, claiming that he did not recall working for one of the lobbying groups most offensive to Republican Primary voters, evidence be damned. And as more stories come out about Thompson’s less-than-conservative values, I predict the enthusiasm of the “FredHeads” will diminish as quickly as Villaraigosa’s support among Latina voters.
By contrast, it is well known that New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a philandering, cross-dressing liberal who likes tax cuts. Rather than deny the charges against him, the former Giuliani has embraced his past and his positions, even when they are to the contrary of the GOP base. Voters not only respect Giuliani’s honesty, in many states like California, they’re embracing him.
Maybe it’s because he learned his politics in the nation’s most competitive media market – New York City – but whatever the reasons, Giuliani seems to understand the new political reality. Bloggers will chase big stories about politicians, and if they can do so in a way that isn’t libelous, they’ll report what they hear. And politicians can no longer rely on the mainstream media to protect them from their own peccadilloes. The only choice is for politicians to step up, be honest, and love themselves, warts and all. In exchange for such refreshing honesty, voters may just love them back.