A black lace mantilla draped over her head, Matilda Salas knelt at a side altar of downtown's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, immersed in solemn prayer, a rosary of black crystals clutched in her tiny hands.

When she finished, she carefully lit two votive candles, as she had done since Tuesday, the day she learned of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's admitted extramarital affair.

"I light one candle for Antonio and one candle for (his wife)," said Salas, 56. "I pray that with God's help, they find a way of reconciling.

"If they don't, Antonio is lost. He is lost to his family. He is lost to himself. Most importantly, he is lost to God."

For Salas, praying for the mayor is her way of handling her anger and disillusionment about his affair - an affront she, like a lot of Latinas, is taking personally.

So much of an affront, political analysts say, that it threatens his longtime core support: Latinas for whom Villaraigosa was once the Latino prodigal son.

Latinas on the Eastside and in northeast Los Angeles forgave Villaraigosa's 1994 extramarital affair after he and wife Corina reconciled, and they became a formidable contingent of his two mayoral campaigns - efforts in which


Villaraigosa made his family life and values a key element of his appeal.

Never the same

But many Latinas are now saying they never will think of the mayor in the same way again in the wake of his admission last week that he has been carrying on an extramarital affair with Telemundo anchorwoman Mirthala Salinas that has resulted in the breakup of his 20-year marriage.

"Whether this affair poses a threat to Antonio's political future is debatable," said Los Angeles attorney Alex Jacinto, a longtime veteran of Eastside politics.

"Probably not. His political base has shifted, and it's not as heavily dependent on the Latinos from the Eastside.

"But does it pose a threat to him among the base of Latina supporters he's always had? Most definitely."

Jacinto, who works closely with Catholic parishes on the Eastside, says feelings like those of Salas are similar to the tirade of sentiments he has been hearing about Villaraigosa from Latina parishioners in recent days.

Typical of those parishioners is Juanita Gamboa, 62, president of Las Guadalupanas women's group at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Boyle Heights.

"If it's that easy for him to destroy a marriage of 20 years," she said, "what's to keep him from not being as diligent in keeping his word on matters that should be of less importance to him?

"I have always voted for him. But would I vote for him again?

"It's something I would have to think and pray long and hard over."

The same sentiments were mirrored by Francisca Guerrero, 79, a member of Las Guadalupanas at Our Lady of Soledad Catholic Church in East Los Angeles.

"I am greatly disillusioned with the mayor for leaving his wife for another woman - for a younger woman," she said. "And I am having great difficulty reconciling the image of someone who would do that with the image I used to have of him.

"Of course, I voted for him. Would I again? I would have to think about it. I honestly don't know."

At the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a middle-aged Latina who was approached and asked about her opinion of the mayor's extramarital affair began to answer, and then, as her eyes teared up, began crying and waved her hand indicating she could not talk about it.

The woman made a sign of the cross and hurried away from the cathedral's entryway.

Antonio in crossfire

It's not the first time Villaraigosa has found himself in the crossfire. In 1994, an admitted affair during his first campaign for elective office cost him the support and friendship of county Supervisor Gloria Molina - his political benefactor whose backing is generally credited with helping Villaraigosa win a state Assembly election that year.

Molina's office said she will make no comment on Villaraigosa's admission of his most recent extramarital affair.

But in talking about Villaraigosa's affair in 1994 - when his wife was recovering from thyroid cancer - Molina has said she felt "a mix of anger and unbelievable disappointment" and thought Villaraigosa had betrayed a public as well as a private trust.

"I so value these positions," Molina said in a May profile of Villaraigosa in The New Yorker. "There are very few of us who have the opportunity to represent these people, and there just has to be a respect for the role you're undertaking."

Latinos angry, too

While the outrage has been especially pronounced among Latinas, men in the Latino community have also been vocal in expressing their personal anger, disappointment and sense of betrayal at the mayor's actions.

"I am planning a 50th wedding anniversary party for next year," says Joe Lozano of Mission Hills, "and I'm planning on inviting the mayor to show him what it's like. It's called commitment.

"I don't know what happened to the guy. I know many Latinos can be very forgiving, but not me.

"We elected him to do a job, not to be taking care of the ladies. We have no room for players as mayors."

Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, confirms that Villaraigosa should be concerned about the possibility of "a Latino conservative cultural backlash."

Regalado, who lives on the Eastside and maintains a wide network among Latino voters, says "there's a certain sense of moral outrage" against Villaraigosa, especially among women.

"What they're saying is that this guy can't keep his word," he said.

"And if he can't keep a commitment, what else is he going to do in life if can't commit to a relationship?"


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