Near the tea set is a Valentine red volume titled Love’s Book of Answers, which counsels: “Kiss now, talk later.… “Because at the end of the day, maybe there were no excuses. I apologize.” ON THIS SUNNY AFTERNOON at her Studio City condominium, Mirthala Salinas, 35 and a year older and wiser, has agreed to speak for the first time about her present, her future, and—as much as she can without hurting anyone else—the scandal last year with Villaraigosa, who is 55.
He was one of the most charismatic politicians in California.
She was one of the most popular Latina journalists in Los Angeles. It wasn’t pretty,” the mayor told PBS interviewer Charlie Rose in February, four months after his affair with Salinas ended. She was off the air for four months before she finally landed a show on AM talk radio. A producer has approached her about hosting a series of TV specials, and she has reconciled with the boyfriend she was seeing before Villaraigosa.
Her TV station, stung by her conflict of interest when she announced the breakup of the mayor’s marriage while they were secretly dating, reassigned her to reporting news from the desert towns east of Los Angeles. Yanni Raz, a 32-year-old Israeli-born real estate agent, declined to be interviewed, except to confirm that he and Salinas are engaged and about to be married. THE FIRST TIME WE TALK, Salinas meets me at her doorstep. Her face is heart shaped and Disney pretty, with big brown eyes and a welcoming smile. She wears pale lip gloss and a little mascara, which will run later when she cries. Her mantel holds a local television Emmy, small and golden.
She is in high heels, jeans, and a blue-and-brown top with an Empire waist and a neckline low enough to be a little sexy but high enough to be modest. Her tables are strewn with framed photographs of her brothers, sisters, and nieces. A large and well-tended philodendron winds around a stand next to her couch. Their toys are piled neatly next to a wet bar near the stairs, which lead to her bedroom.
She is friendly, earnest, and more innocent than I expected. A slight breeze blows in a window that opens to a patio filled with plants. It’s beautiful when you have that, and putting everything else aside, I was happy.
She offers fruit and cookies on the coffee table, with tea brewed from fresh mint. Afterward, we talk again on the telephone, and once again for another two hours in the Toluca Lake office of the producer who wants her to host the TV specials. And when you’re happy, you want to eat the world.” The world, though, should not find out. They were happy for me, but they were a little bit worried about what the outcome could be.” On June 8, Villaraigosa announced that he and Corina were separating.
IN HER LIVING ROOM, which is just big enough for two people, stands a coffee table.
On the table are six lighted candles, some scented with grapefruit, some with coffee cake. “I’m a romantic.” Salinas, scorned in headlines last summer as the mayor’s “other woman,” settles into her plush brown couch.Arranged next to them are a silver tea set and a vase of red and white roses. Her English is touched with a slight Spanish accent. “I respect that.” Her hand rises to her neck, to a silver pendant that contains her mother’s ashes.Andrea Bocelli is singing a Mexican love song on the stereo. So much has changed, she says, that the woman in those headlines could be another person. She cannot help but relate her six-month affair with Antonio Villaraigosa to her own vulnerability after the loss, a few months before, of her mother to cancer. “I don’t want to come across as ‘Oh, now she excuses herself.’” She reaches again for the dove-shaped pendant.The office is hardly personal, but our talk grows more so. I don’t think love is just, ‘I see someone, I’m in love.’ I think it’s a gradual feeling.” HE SEEMED so caring, so constant, she says. “I think deep inside we knew it was going to be a scandal,” she says. At Channel 52, Salinas was substituting for an anchor on maternity leave.In both settings, she declines to answer many of my questions out of respect for Villaraigosa’s family. She knows, though, that she will be asked for interviews until she finally relents, and she wants to close this chapter of her life. “It’s something that happened in my life, and it’s part of my past. Her friends were shocked but said she’d be crazy not to give it a chance. OK, putting the whole world aside, the media scrutiny, the people hurt, I felt special. “Deep inside we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.… The mayor’s announcement would mean sitting in front of TV cameras and reading the news about her lover’s separation from his wife.I’m starting all over again, personally and professionally.” LIFE FOR MIRTHALA SALINAS began in Mexico. Her father was a radio announcer who later opened a furniture business. “I didn’t want to be a model, or whatever,” she says. Sometimes people walk next to me, and they’re a huge artist, and I don’t know, because I’m not into that.” She covered the mayor at City Hall and on trips to New York and Sacramento. Because of a legal settlement she reached with Telemundo when she eventually left KVEA, she says she cannot say why she did not simply refuse. “It felt like something in my stomach, like a ball in my stomach, like a hole in my stomach…something here.” She touches her abdomen.