It isn’t only Antonio Villaraigosa‘s political rivals who are gleeful over the Los Angeles mayor’s extramarital exploits. Democratic presidential hopefuls not named Hillary Clinton are snickering at how one of the party frontrunner’s most coveted supporters has suddenly become a potential embarrassment.
Villaraigosa, who serves as one of four national co-chairmen of Clinton’s campaign, admitted earlier this week that he’s been having an affair with Telemundo news anchor Mirthala Salinas. Villaraigosa’s wife Corina—the two merged their last names, Villar and Raigosa, when they married in 1987—announced their separation last month. (Salinas has been pulled off of the air while her bosses look into whether she violated the station’s ethics rules.)
A rising star in the Democratic party, Villaraigosa’s endorsement had been heavily courted by other candidates, especially New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, the only Hispanic in the race. “They’re probably pretty relieved now that they didn’t win that one,” laughs an insider from another campaign.
Villaraigosa’s revelation leaves Clinton in a bind, says the insider. “They want people to forget all the ethical, marital partisan wars that were being waged” during Bill Clinton‘s time in office, and “this is exactly the type of scandal that’s going to remind people of that.” On the other hand, “it would be very difficult for them to walk away from someone who’s widely viewed as one of the most influential Hispanic politicians in the country.”
“They’re highly motivated to find a way to justify keeping him,” agrees a strategist from another campaign. “Where they are going to find themselves in a tough situation is if Mrs. Villaraigosa goes to the mat the way [Rudy] Giuliani‘s wife did. If she gets militant about the divorce, they are going to be in an incredibly awkward situation.”
For now, Clinton’s best response is probably to do nothing, says a former Democratic consultant. “The Clintons don’t stick with people who become liabilities, but to get rid of him would invite comparisons they don’t want,” he says. “Bottom line, she’s a bigger punchline if she throws him off.”