Actor Tom Hanks had a great line in the movie "A League of Their Own." Playing the crusty manager of a women's baseball team, he berates one member into tears and shouts: "There's no crying! There's no crying in baseball."
That came to mind when I read last week that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was asking for privacy, after admitting to an affair with a prominent TV reporter. To paraphrase Hanks' character, Jimmy Dugan, there's no privacy in politics.
Villaraigosa was heralded as a rising star until very recently. Now he's in danger of flaming out.
Early last year, I wrote that Villaraigosa looked like "the best bet to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger" in 2010. He had "the positioning and the pizazz."
That's the problem with premature speculation.
But I also wrote that the mayor would "need to avoid scandal
and rack up a laudable record."
Turns out he lacked the self-discipline to avoid scandal. And there's little laudable so far about his record.
Villaraigosa told me then that "I'm not one of those guys who has a five-year or 10-year plan."
No kidding. He apparently already was cheating on his wife and sleeping with reporter Mirthala Salinas, who was covering him for Telemundo.
Prophetically, the mayor commented: "One thing I know, things can change."
Especially if one exercises reckless, self-destructive behavior. It's all very disappointing because Villaraigosa is talented, energetic, charismatic and potentially inspirational.
And that's one of his problems right now. Those who claim this is nobody's business except for the people directly involved ignore the fact that many Angelenos voted for Villaraigosa believing he'd be an inspirational mayor and someone whom Latino kids could look up to as a role model. This infidelity is these voters' business too. The first Latino mayor of modern L.A. has soiled his image and spoiled their dreams.
Some voters insist that they don't care about a politician's dalliances. Fine, they can click the remote or turn the page. Others do care. They'll factor it into their attitudes about the man.
Outside the Los Angeles Basin, Villaraigosa has been little known. Now, he's being introduced statewide as a serial philanderer who dumped on his wife years ago, sweet-talked her back into the house, used her as a political prop and returned to the pattern of womanizing. The family breakup is especially disturbing because the mayor and his wife have two teen children.
"The voters may decide it doesn't matter," says Garry South, a Democratic strategist for three gubernatorial campaigns. "But when you run for governor of this mega-state and you're put under the microscope, it's never helpful to have junk in your personal life.
"Anyone who thinks any part of your past life doesn't come into play when voters are making a determination about you is pretty foolish. Everything is subject to inquiry and attack."
There is a sense among many political pros and pundits that the voters have been there, seen that and become more tolerant of politicians' sexual misbehavior.
But the Villaraigosa case is different. Here's why: