A proud sibling, Villar said she sees two main forces behind her brother's uplifted spirits: the success of many of Villaraigosa's policies as mayor, including a significant decrease in violent crime citywide; and his loving relationship with his children.
"At the very minimum, he certainly is at a different place right now," she said.
Villaraigosa said he's thankful that throughout the continuing divorce process, he and his wife, Corina, have never wavered from their devotion to their children: their teenage daughter and a son who is attending Princeton University.
"I've been very fortunate. Corina and I have always put our kids first. From the very beginning, neither one of us have ever deviated from the principle that our kids come first. Their happiness is our priority," Villaraigosa said. "I am closer today with my children than I was before the separation. We are very close."
The mayor said he's been committed to spending more time with his daughter now that she's only 1 1/2 years away from heading to college. It's not unusual to see her at his side at official events or even a Lakers game. He said he wants to be there for her high school prom and her visits to colleges she might want to attend.
That desire, Villaraigosa said, was one of the reasons he decided in June against running for governor, even though he said opinion polls showed he would have had a "very strong candidacy." The mayor also said he hadn't wanted to leave the city during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The decision not to run, he said, has sharpened his focus on steering L.A. though the difficult terrain ahead.
"From the darkest times to the brightest," Villaraigosa said, "I've always had a smile on my face."