Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fascinating Story About Mayor In Daily News Today!

Tony Castro gives a detailed - and very humanizing - look at the Mayor's background. If anyone at the LA Times is reading this - Castro has expertly demonstrated what is meant as local news coverage:

The untold story of the mayor's rise from poverty to power
BY TONY CASTRO, Staff Writer
LA Daily News
Article Last Updated:

Antonio Villaraigosa had promoted his ambitious trade mission to the Far East for almost an hour when he slipped into a monologue about Chinese food and chopsticks.

"It's funny, but I've been addicted to chopsticks since I was a kid. My kids have, too."

Those thin, metal chopsticks were another matter, the mayor said, trading stories of their difficulty with editors and reporters before drifting back to memories of his childhood.

"I've been using chopsticks since I was a kid ..."

He rolled his head slowly and gazed upward as if the ceiling tiles were television monitors showing old home movies of his youth when he caught himself and bit his lip.

"That's not true. I think the first time I went to a Chinese restaurant was when I was 19 ..."

As chroniclers of Antonio Villaraigosa invariably come to discover, sometimes what comes out of the Los Angeles mayor's mouth - particularly when it's about his past - and what ultimately turns out to be true are not always entirely the same.

Now in his second year in office, Villaraigosa, 53, is catching himself in some of those inconsistencies - those embellishments of the past or his tendency to exaggerate or bolster his importance - flaws that can often simply be attributed to a faulty memory or political hyperbole.

Childhood tale

Ironically, a window to understanding why Villaraigosa tries so hard may be in the very Horatio Alger-like tale the mayor himself has often told about his childhood: Abandoned by his alcoholic, abusive father while he was in kindergarten, raised by a mother he describes as "a woman of indomitable spirit who never stopped believing in me," and further traumatized when his father sired another son as part of another family and christened him with the same name he had given Villaraigosa at birth - Antonio Ramon Villar Jr.

In that rocky upbringing, some experts say, lies the seed for the drive, ambition and, yes, even the indulgent bravado behind the self-reinvented Villaraigosa, as well as many others in public life.

"The typical politician," Beverly Hills psychiatrist Carole Lieberman said, "is someone who is unconsciously trying to compensate for feeling powerless as a child.

"Even after being successful, this feeling of smallness and inadequacy from when they were children stays with them. They remain insecure and don't know if people would vote for them if they knew how powerless or small they still believe themselves to be, so they fabricate stories about themselves to make themselves seem more heroic."

It may explain why Villaraigosa, more than any Los Angeles mayor since the late Tom Bradley, has so thoroughly enveloped himself in the trappings of the office.

Celeb photo ops

He moved from his home in Mount Washington to stately Getty House, the official mayoral residence just outside Hancock Park. He seeks photo ops with the famous and the powerful: Hollywood celebrities at the Academy Awards, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mexican President Vicente Fox, former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

When Blair was in Los Angeles for a visit to UCLA in August, Villaraigosa boasted that London's Guardian newspaper had called him "the Latino Tony Blair."

"He knows that real leadership is about challenging your friends and allies," Villaraigosa said, "and from this distant perspective in sunny L.A., that's always been the genius of Tony Blair's record of public service."

In Villaraigosa's mind, experts say, the greater, the more heroic the person rubbing elbows with him, the greater, the more heroic the "Latino Tony Blair." It's all part of sustaining an image of perfection and personal invincibility and attempting to project that impression to others, as well.

But recently the patina has rubbed off some of the stories that Villaraigosa himself says have made him "the poster child of the American dream."

Weary of story

In June, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported that retired Sherman Oaks teacher Herman Katz had grown "weary" of the yarn Villaraigosa has often told of how Katz dramatically turned his life around while the teenage Villar was struggling at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights - almost making it seem as if Katz had become his surrogate father, paving his course to eventual political stardom.

It wasn't that Katz hadn't taken an interest in young Villar. But the way Villaraigosa had built up the relationship - introducing him during his inaugural spectacle in 2005 in glowing, almost familial terms - may have made it seem more than it was.

"It wasn't a `this-kid-could-be-mayor-one-

day' type of thing," Katz told The Journal. "It just so happened that this was at a time when he needed somebody who showed a little interest, who would give him the encouragement, and that's what it really was.

"This story is important because it shows people how important an educator can be when you don't even realize it. You never know how you're going to affect a kid."

In fairness to the mayor, experts say, everyone is subject to what W. Keith Campbell, associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia and a "narcissism expert," calls "memory distortion."

"It's a self-enhancing direction in which people destroy the past to make themselves look better," Campbell said. "I don't know if it's the politician doing it or handlers doing it because they know it creates a good story.

"If you're someone like (U.S. Sen.) John McCain, you have a good story to begin with. As for others, I don't know how much of it is made up and how much is a memory distortion."

And there is much more. Be sure and read the entire article.

It's great reading and I think the overall impact is that it by examining a few personal flaws of the Mayor common to many people at this time, it allows him to correct the record when his personal popularity is so high that a few past misstatements will do him no harm.

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