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What hiring his rival's top aide will and won't do for Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa

Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES--The top contenders to be California's next governor have similar low points in their political careers: extramarital affairs that exploded in public view during their tenures as big-city mayors.

And in a twist that reveals the small world of Golden State politics, they've each hired advisers who know the most intimate details of those transgressions -- about the other guy.

Sean Clegg was Antonio Villaraigosa's deputy mayor in 2007 when the then-Los Angeles mayor and his wife Corina separated after two decades of marriage. Soon after the news came out, Villaraigosa revealed that the cause of the split was his relationship with Telemundo reporter Mirthala Salinas, who covered the mayor at City Hall. It was his second acknowledged extramarital affair.

Clegg is now a top adviser to Villaraigosa's chief opponent, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Eric Jaye was Newsom's chief political strategist when he was the mayor of San Francisco. The San Francisco Chronicle once described Jaye as Newsom's "political touchstone, mad scientist and wizard behind the curtain" and the "brains behind his City Hall administration."

Jaye was at Newsom's side when the mayor disclosed an affair with his appointments secretary. She was the wife of Alex Tourk, who was Newsom's deputy chief of staff and campaign manager until he learned of the relationship. Jaye and Tourk are close friends, and Jaye is now Villaraigosa's senior strategist. Tourk also briefly worked for Villaraigosa's political action committee last year.

Political consultants sign nondisclosure agreements, so Jaye and Clegg can't share any secrets they learned when they worked for Newsom and Villaraigosa. But both men have a valuable and unusual degree of insight into their former bosses' habits and foibles, a familiarity that could give both candidates a boost.

"One of the first rules of campaigns is, know thy enemy as you know yourself. The more you understand not only their positions on the issues and their vulnerabilities, but how they'll react, the more it gives you an edge," said Rose Kapolczynski, a veteran Democratic strategist.

She said a critical part of running a campaign is catching the opposition off guard. "You have an advantage anytime you can do something unexpected that your opponent won't know how to react to, and these guys have a deep understanding of how their former bosses (and) current rivals will react under pressure."

Clegg and Jaye insist that their history is irrelevant and dismissed the notion that it offers any added benefit.

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