He’s about 20 pounds lighter, dabbles in yoga and has declared Mondays “meatless.”
Six months into his second and last term as mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa appears noticeably more at ease both at City Hall and personally.
Villaraigosa credits the change in part to his decision to forgo a run for governor this year, shedding the incessant political speculation that he acknowledges was a major distraction.
The personal fallout from his extramarital affair in 2007, which led to salacious national headlines and the breakup of his 20-year marriage, has also had time to settle both for him and for his children.
Villaraigosa said he’s closer to his kids than ever before, and happily involved in a romantic relationship with local television news reporter Lu Parker. She frequently appears at his side at official events.
“I’m at a great place with my family and kids, my sisters, and you could put Lu in there as well,” Villaraigosa said during an interview that offered a rare and sometimes candid glimpse into the private life of a politician who had reason to be guarded in recent years.
Repeating a mantra that was featured in his second inaugural address in July, Villaraigosa also said he’s refocused himself on delivering results, including job creation and making L.A. “the cleanest, greenest” big city in America, despite the worst economic crisis in decades.
“I think it’s been a very difficult year, given the situation with the city and the state, and it makes it an incredibly difficult job to do,” said longtime friend and former state Assemblyman Richard Katz. “I think he understands that better, and he has a firm grasp of what he has to do.”
City Council President Eric Garcetti agrees that the mayor seems more comfortable in the job, even when facing the unpleasant task of shaking up his administration -- including bringing in a new chief of staff and other top advisors.
“He seems personally grounded, professionally focused and genuinely happy,” Garcetti said.
As do many politicians, Villaraigosa starting getting into better shape before his reelection campaign last year and, after winning a second term, was determined to stick with it.
Villaraigosa turns 57 this Saturday, another reason to get into better shape. He said that even though he has always exercised regularly and generally had a healthful diet, he had fallen into a bit of a rut.
“I kind of got into a regimen that was too routine. I’m actually exercising less today, but it’s more intense,” he said.
Along with putting in time on the treadmill, Villaraigosa has added yoga and stretching to his routine, and he alternates weight and cardiovascular training in his workouts. The mayor also said he’s sleeping better. In the past, he caught about three or four hours a night. Now he sleeps five or six, he said.
“I’m also eating healthier and eating less, including meatless Mondays,” Villaraigosa said.
It’s probably no coincidence that Parker, whom the mayor has been dating since March, is a vegetarian and avid runner.
Villaraigosa shied away from talking very much about his relationship with Parker, a former Miss USA and a reporter at KTLA-TV Channel 5, a station owned by Tribune Co., The Times’ parent company.
Sources at City Hall said the mayor traveled to South Carolina to meet her parents around the Christmas holiday, although the mayor would say only that they’ve met each other’s families.
“We’re not in any way hiding our relationship. We’re public about it, but it’s also private,” Villaraigosa said.
News of their relationship made a local media splash in June, mostly because the mayor’s affair with a different local newscaster in 2007 led to the breakup of his marriage. But news coverage of the couple since has been muted. Parker attended the mayor’s second inauguration with little mention, but stories and photographs of the two occasionally pop up on TMZ and other celebrity blogs and websites.
Over the last few months, Villaraigosa has grown more comfortable acknowledging their relationship in public, as he did when the two attended a rock concert at the Rose Bowl in the fall: “I’m at the U2/Black Eye Peas concert with Lu and the world is watching. I love L.A. :)” he posted on the social media website Twitter. (Many of Villaraigosa’s Twitter messages are written by his City Hall aides, but the mayor has said he did that one himself.)
He and Parker were photographed together at a Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art gala in October, as well as at other special events across the city. In December, Parker accompanied him to the swearing-in of Police Chief Charlie Beck. A few weeks later the magazine Modern Dog did a photo shoot of Parker and her dog Monkey at Getty House, the mayor’s official residence in Windsor Square, according to her personal blog.
Villaraigosa’s sister, Deborah Villar, said that Parker has received a warm welcome from the extended family and that she joined them during a family get-together at Getty House around Christmas.
A proud sibling, Villar said she sees two main forces behind her brother’s uplifted spirits: the success of many of Villaraigosa’s policies as mayor, including a significant decrease in violent crime citywide; and his loving relationship with his children.
“At the very minimum, he certainly is at a different place right now,” she said.
Villaraigosa said he’s thankful that throughout the continuing divorce process, he and his wife, Corina, have never wavered from their devotion to their children: their teenage daughter and a son who is attending Princeton University.
“I’ve been very fortunate. Corina and I have always put our kids first. From the very beginning, neither one of us have ever deviated from the principle that our kids come first. Their happiness is our priority,” Villaraigosa said. “I am closer today with my children than I was before the separation. We are very close.”
The mayor said he’s been committed to spending more time with his daughter now that she’s only 1 1/2 years away from heading to college. It’s not unusual to see her at his side at official events or even a Lakers game. He said he wants to be there for her high school prom and her visits to colleges she might want to attend.
That desire, Villaraigosa said, was one of the reasons he decided in June against running for governor, even though he said opinion polls showed he would have had a “very strong candidacy.” The mayor also said he hadn’t wanted to leave the city during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The decision not to run, he said, has sharpened his focus on steering L.A. though the difficult terrain ahead.
“From the darkest times to the brightest,” Villaraigosa said, “I’ve always had a smile on my face.”