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Antonio’s Special Seat

It was a sad occasion, but a dream invitation for Antonio Villaraigosa — a chance to speak at the funeral of civil-rights icon Rosa Parks, on national television, alongside Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan, with Aretha Franklin providing the hymns. The mayor flew to Detroit last week, spoke, and wowed the mourners. Big political points.There was luck involved. After Parks launched the historic 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, she moved to Detroit but began wintering in Los Angeles and became friendly with Willis Edwards, now co-director of the Rosa Parks Institute. Edwards wanted the mayor of Los Angeles at the service.“Because he needed to be there,” Edwards said. “It was at my suggestion to the family, because he’s about Rosa Parks. She would like him very much.”But what political providence bestows with one hand it can grab back with the other. It turns out that Villaraigosa caught his ride to the funeral on a private plane owned by Ameriquest, a mortgage firm under scrutiny from regulators around the country, as reported Tuesday by Los Angeles Times reporter Patrick McGreevy. The company is fending off probes into its lending practices while lobbying the mayor’s office on mortgage lending. Villaraigosa was once a paid consultant to the firm, which later donated to both of his mayoral campaigns and gave $100,000 to his inaugural-gala fund-raiser for after-school programs.Villaraigosa’s lawyer, Tom Saenz, said the cost would be reimbursed from a political account — in other words, from other contributors. He also said the mayor took the flight because the invitation was “last minute.” True, said Edwards, who noted that invitations to most funerals are last-minute matters.Saenz added that the mayor decided long ago to recuse himself from any official matter having to do with Ameriquest. But the recusal apparently does not apply to the mayor’s staff or commission appointees, and the controversy has raised enough scrutiny of a mayor who campaigned on setting a high ethical example that it may wipe out whatever goodwill he won from his address at Parks’ funeral.

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