Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, hailed nationally as a rising Latino Democrat but ridiculed locally for ignoring L.A.'s long list of street-level problems, could be heard re-telling the chilling tale of his childhood abuse at the Democratic National Convention last week. (At which he also made headlines for taking a hilarious non-vote before happily adding God and Jerusalem to the Democratic Party's official platform. Executive decisions FTW!)
The mayor once again claimed that his father, Antonio Villar Sr. ...
... was a raging alcoholic who beat his mother, yet never broke her "indomitable spirit," before leaving their family when Antonio Jr. was only five years old.
And once again, controversial L.A. journalist Tony Castro called foul. Castro, once a rising star in his own right -- in the scarce late-1970s field of Latino journalists -- writes that Villaraigosa, although he was seen as the face of Latino politics after his "historic 2005 election," is now just an aging face in a growing crowd of pols with exactly the same shtick.
Perhaps this is why, writes Castro, Villaraigosa feels he needs to "make quick ground in politics with an unusually sympathetic story that for the longest time went unquestioned."
Here's the story, as told to CBS2 in a sit-down interview last winter:
"Being with my little sister, hiding under the bed, hearing the screaming -- we had to witness the terror that comes with watching your mom getting beat," he said. And he claimed the abuse "wasn't just physical -- it was the psychological violence, and usually in fits of rage that were associated with drinking."
In a huge 2006 takedown of the mayor that ran in the L.A. Daily News (while outspoken City Hall critic Ron Kaye was editor), Castro interviewed Villaraigosa's father, along with members of his father's new family.
They said the mayor's allegations against Villar Sr. were far-fetched and defamatory.
"I don't believe a man can change so dramatically in the way he behaved around one family and another,'' Villar's current wife, Estela, told the Daily News. "If he were the way [Villaraigosa] describes him to have been, he would have shown signs with our family -- and there were none."
Castro's own reliability is something to consider. He was reportedly sentenced to three years' probation in 1993 for making up sources in the National Enquirer (although we kind of thought that's just how the Enquirer worked in general), and has taken such incredibly colorful side-jobs as "appearing as a female impersonator at a nightclub called Los Barrolitos... under the name Raquel." That said, he also wrote the definitive biography of baseball legend Mickey Mantle, and has served on staff for such esteemed publications as the Herald Examiner and Sports Illustrated.
Anyway, in light of the mayoral sob story's fresh play at the DNC, the managing editor of ultra-libertarian Reason Magazine has decided that Castro's reporting has some veracity: See yesterday's "Antonio Villaraigosa Bombs In National Debut."
Reason bites this giant chunk out of Castro's latest blog post:
Villaraigosa's father, Antonio Ramon Villar Sr., finally spoke up for himself in a 2006 interview in which he adamantly challenged the mayor's allegations.
"God knows that I was never an alcoholic and that I never hurt his mother or abused my family," Villar Sr. told me, denying the mayor's long-accepted account of his purported difficult childhood.
"I know the public has been poisoned against me, but this is the truth, so help me God."
Villaraigosa's claim that his father later gave another son the exact same name he had given him also is inaccurate.
That other son--christened Anthony Gustavo Villar, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz - has personally contacted Villaraigosa demanding to know why he has publicly vilified their father, said Estela Villar, Anthony Gustavo's mother and the wife of Antonio Ramon Villar Sr.
Villar Sr.'s second family portrayed him as a husband and father who has been gentle, loving, kind and deeply religious--and who in half a century of marriage never abused his wife or their four children, nor shown any hints of alcoholism.
The Weekly has reached out to Anthony Villar, UCSC professor -- as well as the mayor's own flack -- for comment.
We will say that it does seem a stretch to deem the mayor a liar based on the (very biased) accounts of his father's new family. And Villar Sr.'s apparent status as a registered sex offender, for a past conviction of sexual penetration with a foreign object, doesn't bode well for the defense.
But we'll also say that it wouldn't be outside the mayor's attention-seeking, all-about-me character to make up a story that would draw the competitive mics of TV news anchors and, in effect, appeal to voters at home.
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"It's probably the only time in my life that I've ever felt helpless," the mayor told CBS2 of watching his father beat his mother.
That speaks to the psychological analysis that Castro laid out in his original 1996 piece on Villaraigosa's alleged childhood nightmare:
"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.''
... Lieberman, a nationally recognized expert in father-son and other family estrangement issues, has never seen Villaraigosa professionally but studied his relationship with his father and says it is the root of the mayor's motivation, both personally and politically.
"The mayor would have felt replaced and inconsequential, replaced in his father's affections by another child given the same name. There's always going to be jealousy and rivalry for the father's affections and the feeling of being abandoned."