Los Angeles magazine posted its May cover story based on Shawn Hubler's interview with ex-mayoral squeeze Mirthala Salinas, 35, with portrait by Jill Greenberg. Salinas tells how the affair with Antonio Villaraigosa started and ended, and identifies her new fiance. Based on a quick read, here are some of the parts I found interesting.
A producer has approached her about hosting a series of TV specials, and she has reconciled with the boyfriend she was seeing before Villaraigosa. Unlike the mayor, he is someone you probably don’t know. Yanni Raz, a 32-year-old Israeli-born real estate agent, declined to be interviewed, except to confirm that he and Salinas are engaged and about to be married. She would like to have children soon...."
She is tall and slender. Her face is heart shaped and Disney pretty, with big brown eyes and a welcoming smile. She is in high heels, jeans, and a blue-and-brown top with an Empire waist and a neckline low enough to be a little sexy but high enough to be modest. She is friendly, earnest, and more innocent than I expected. “Come in,” she says. Her hand is delicate, with pale pink nails. It trembles. She wears pale lip gloss and a little mascara, which will run later when she cries...."
After the jump: dating Fabian Núñez and meeting Villaraigosa.
She says that she and Núñez were serious. “I mean, we met families. But I think the timing…he was in Sacramento, I was here. He was busy, I was working weekends. It was just hard.” After six or eight months, she says, they broke up. Núñez eventually remarried his former wife. Before the breakup, however, Salinas became a friend of his good friend Villaraigosa. They socialized together. She introduced him to some of her relatives. They ran into each other at benefits and political functions.
What was he like?
Mirthala Salinas smiles fondly and takes a deep breath. “A happy person. A good-hearted person. Humble. Outgoing but cautious. Not shy, but he observes people. Like I can be outgoing, but I’m shy, and I think he’s more outgoing, but cautious. And, you know, I don’t blame him. In the world he’s in, it’s hard. He’s slow in getting to know you, but he’s a very positive person, very energetic person. He’s very— what’s the word? Positive? Like in his mind, there’s no room for negative thinking. Everything is good. Life is beautiful.”
“I don’t remember how I invited him, but I had this little get-together at my house, and he came. There were maybe eight or ten people there, including myself, and my neighbor saw it and made a big deal out of it.” She shrugs, then laughs. “But we were only friends.”
Potluck? With the mayor?
“I don’t care about people having titles,” she says. “I don’t. And I know people see it as, well, he is the mayor of L.A. And they have every right to think that. But there is a word in English. Star…starstrike? Starstruck? I don’t get like that. Sometimes people walk next to me, and they’re a huge artist, and I don’t know, because I’m not into that.” She covered the mayor at City Hall and on trips to New York and Sacramento. She landed interviews with him—but not, she says, as any special favor; Villaraigosa talked constantly to reporters. Anonymous members of his staff , however, would tell the Times that they had been privately concerned about photos of Salinas and the mayor walking side by side at the state capitol—and that word of a “developing relationship” might spread.
Nonsense, she tells me. “I don’t know what they mean about a relationship developing.” She says she was still seeing her boyfriend, Raz, and would be for months.
“My mom was in the hospital for four months,” Salinas says, “and [the mayor] was there.” Gradually, she says, “I got to know him in a more personal level.… And I liked what I saw.”
What did she see?
“The fact that he was a real human being, and he didn’t come to us as ‘the mayor.’ He came as a friend, just to be there. He always was like, ‘Do you guys need anything? Did you guys eat?’ Very, what’s the word? Very making sure we were OK. I know a lot of people do that when you’re in a crisis, but maybe because it was a different kind of relationship, not that close, that it was a side of him I didn’t see before.”
On January 4, 2007, her mother died. Salinas was distraught. Remembering her mother’s funeral still undoes her. Villaraigosa flew to Phoenix to attend the service—but, she says, only as a close friend. “I know there’s a lot of speculation,” she says, dabbing at her eyes with a paper napkin. “All I can tell you is he was very supportive. He’s an excellent human being, and he was there for me.”
When she returned to work, she told her supervisors at Channel 52 that she should not do any more reporting on the mayor because he had done so much for her family that she could no longer be objective about him. She and the TV station agreed that she would be reassigned to a beat that would not involve reporting on either the mayor or city politics.
She felt as if she were sleepwalking. “I had to learn to not have a mom.” She pauses. The tears well up again. “I just got myself into this shell, and it was just me. I was just working. I was just spending me with myself, going back to see my family when I could.… I was back to work full-me.” By now, both cheeks are wet, and she has given up trying to dry them. “I was mourning my mom,” she says, sobbing. “I think I still am.”
Two months later, she says, she started seeing her friend the mayor. Whatever either had previously felt, the intention now clearly was romance. When I ask about it, she becomes visibly guarded. She turns away question after question, saying she wants, above all, to be considerate. “I think it was gradual,” she finally offers. “It wasn’t ‘Oh! I’m in love!’ It was gradual. I think that’s how love is. I don’t think love is just, ‘I see someone, I’m in love.’ I think it’s a gradual feeling.
“Everybody loves to be loved, right? I think everybody likes to feel in love. And I think love is the most beautiful thing that a human being can have.… But then it got so crazy, it got to the point where it was just too overwhelming.”
In October, Mirthala Salinas’s affair with Antonio Villaraigosa came to an end.
“I think it just got to the point where we both realized that it wasn’t working out as that kind of a relationship,” she says. “I don’t know what it was, I don’t know if it was being on everybody’s mouth, under the scrutiny of everybody. When I talk to my friends, they think that’s what it was.”
There were 19½ years between them. Wasn’t that a big age difference?
“Yeah, but I don’t think that was it. It was better just as a friendship.”
On October 18, Salinas was hospitalized with pneumonia, partly the result of stress, she says. Reporters spotted her old boyfriend, Yanni Raz, at the hospital with her.
Her relationship with the mayor had gone back to being just friends.