Telemundo yet to question the mayor

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Nearly three weeks after Telemundo executives launched an inquiry into Channel 52 anchor Mirthala Salinas' relationship with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, station officials have yet to ask him about it, Villaraigosa said Monday.

The mayor repeated his vigorous defense of Salinas, a Spanish-language journalist who embarked on a romantic relationship with him while she reported on City Hall. He said he still believes the station will find she did nothing wrong.

"My hope is that if this investigation was conducted fairly and impartially, she will be vindicated," Villaraigosa said as he appeared at an event focusing on traffic congestion on Crenshaw Boulevard.

Telemundo is conducting a review to determine whether the relationship between Salinas and Villaraigosa caused KVEA-TV Channel 52, a station owned by NBC Universal, to compromise its journalistic mission.

The latest round of questions provided yet another sign that until a decision is made by Telemundo, the mayor will have difficulty getting the media to place its undivided attention on his policy initiatives.

Villaraigosa was asked repeatedly about Salinas as he sought to promote his "Tiger Team" initiative, which will send squads of tow trucks out during rush hour to remove cars from no-parking zones on a 3.2-mile stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard.

A grinning Villaraigosa jauntily placed a small stuffed tiger on the podium, moving it next to the microphone so it could be captured by the 14 news cameras assembled at the event. But the mayor's demeanor slowly changed as he was peppered by questions of a more personal nature -- whether he is still seeing Salinas, whether he discussed the inquiry with her, and, perhaps most jarring, whether he intends to wed her.

"That's precisely why I've said from the beginning that when you answer questions like that, they get more and more personal," Villaraigosa said, responding to a question about marriage plans. "Let me be clear: I announced that I have a relationship with Ms. Salinas and we continue to have a relationship."

"I'm certainly not going to propose to you, or through you," Villaraigosa told KNBC-TV Channel 4 reporter Laurel Erickson.

Once the event ended, a crowd of reporters surrounded a grim-looking Villaraigosa outside his GMC Yukon, shouting questions even as he climbed into the passenger seat of his city vehicle. The scene drew sympathy from some of the tow truck drivers assembled at S&J Wilshire Tow Yard for Villaraigosa's Tiger Team event.

"He's going through normal family problems like anyone else," said tow truck driver Darby Burrell. "I don't fault him. You can't fight your feelings."

Telemundo could decide this week whether Salinas, 35, will be allowed to continue in the same post despite her relationship with the mayor. Station spokesman Victor Franco said he had no idea who would be interviewed by the internal committee conducting the inquiry.

"All I can say is the review is in progress, and we're not going to make any comments until it's completed," he said.

Salinas sat in the anchor chair June 8, announcing that Villaraigosa had separated from his wife while giving no information that she had her own romantic relationship with the mayor.

Three days later, Salinas again remained silent on the affair as she introduced a news segment on Villaraigosa's City Hall news conference dealing with his marriage.

A spokeswoman for Salinas did not have any comment on the inquiry.

Asked whether he should have been called by Telemundo, Villaraigosa said: "That's a question for you to ask NBC Universal, not me and Telemundo."

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