Backers of the Universal City expansion plan have had a relationship with Villaraigosa since he was elected mayor in 2005. Days before he took office, NBC Universal spent $25,000 to attend his inaugural gala, as did KNBC-TV, Channel 4, the company's local affiliate. NBC Universal's Spanish-language stations, Telemundo-52 and KWHY-TV, Channel 22, spent a combined $10,000.
Villaraigosa will have considerable sway over the development project, which will go before his appointees at the citywide Planning Commission and require considerable oversight from Gail Goldberg, the Planning Department general manager whom he hired last year. Villaraigosa has met at least twice with LaBonge to discuss it.
Politicians in California are required to recuse themselves from acting on issues where they or their spouses have a significant financial interest. The situation involving Villaraigosa raises a far less typical question: Should a politician recuse himself from an issue involving a woman who is not his wife?
One government watchdog said such a request would be a stretch, in part because the state's conflict-of-interest law deals mainly with politicians' spouses and children -- not people with whom they are having a romantic relationship.
"There aren't any provisions I know about that deal with a girlfriend or a significant other," said Steve Levin, project manager for the Center for Governmental Studies.
Even more difficult is the question of how the mayor could step away from a project that touches so many parts of municipal government.
Universal City's project "is so massive that every aspect of city government is involved in it," Bogy added. "So I don't know how the mayor recuses himself. But if nothing else, he has a duty to acknowledge exactly what happened and not hide behind the veil of privacy."