News

Eric Garcetti’s long, uphill climb

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and friend at the Rose Parade on Jan. 1 in Pasadena. (Photo: Karl_Sonnenberg)

He runs an entity that boasts more population than 21 states plus Puerto Rico.  He is good-looking, well-spoken, and he’s thinking about running for president.

He is, of course, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Hizzoner, a Democrat and the son of a former L.A. district attorney, would bring a mixed bag of handicaps and advantages to a 2020 presidential campaign.  He is a seasoned and effective campaigner, has an attractive family, and since 2013 has run the second-largest city in the nation, with a population of 4 million. He was re-elected to a second term in 2017 with more than 81 percent of the vote.

Garcetti will begin to remedy the lack of national exposure this month, when he goes to Iowa.  He is probably not going there to build a snowman.

But while he has impressive academic credentials and has lived abroad, he has no foreign policy experience and relatively little exposure on the national stage.  A Republican opponent could run campaign spots depicting Los Angeles’s huge homeless problem with the traditional grim-voice announcer blaming Garcetti for the situation. Add to that an inevitable Republican charge that Garcetti, a former college professor, lists no business experience in his official biography.

But lack of Washington experience seems no longer to be a handicap – in fact, given the fact that Congress had an approval rating of 16 percent last October, according to Gallup, it could be an advantage.

Garcetti will begin to remedy the lack of national exposure this month, when he goes to Iowa.  He is probably not going there to build a snowman. He will deliver a keynote address at the Scott County Democrats’ annual Red, White and Blue Dinner, and then make stops in Altoona, at a Carpenters Union training facility, and Des Moines. Garcetti will also stop in Waterloo, where his wife Amy has family. There will be national pundit speculation about it all.

Garcetti already has visited early-primary-states New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“When it comes to public safety, I listen to police chiefs and cops, not to a cable-news station.” — Eric Garcetti

“He’s going to Iowa because the carpenters’ union invited him. He has a long history of working with the carpenters’ union,” Garcetti’s senior political advisor, Rick Jacobs, told Capitol Weekly in a telephone interview.

Asked by reporters if he was going to run in 2020, Garcetti replied, “I’m thinking about it.” In January, asked when he will make a decision about whether to run for president, he said he had “no idea.”

In the minds of many, the usually thoughtful and cautious Garcetti, an academic before he became a politician, could become the anti-Trump.

He had this to say about the Trump Administration in an interview with The Atlantic in December of 2017:

“I am totally opposed to so much of the immorality coming out of the White House right now, but I’d like to also talk about its impracticality,” he said. “This is a very impractical White House. When it comes to public safety, I listen to police chiefs and cops, not to a cable-news station. When it comes to environment, we’re not engaged in ideological conversation about the merits of climate change. We’re actually dealing with the impact.”

“Hail to the Chief” aside, his boss right now is thinking about his mayoral duties and electing Democrats to the House, Jacobs insists.

“He’s mainly focused on candidates for Congress right now; he’s very, very focused on flipping the House in 218,” Jacobs says.

Garcetti is aware that at least two other big-city mayors — Bill de Blasio of New York and Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans — are also flirting with the idea.

A fourth generation Angeleno of mixed Mexican and Jewish ancestry, Garcetti was raised in the San Fernando Valley and earned his B.A. and M.A. from Columbia University. He studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and the London School of Economics and taught at Occidental College and USC. He has lived and studied in Southeast Asia and Northwest Africa, and his academic work focused on ethnic conflict and nationalism. He has published articles and chapters of books on post-conflict societies, Eritrean nationalism and non-violent action. From 2006 to 2012, he was president of the Los Angeles City Council.

Garcetti served in the Navy Reserve from 2005 to 2018 and is an avid jazz pianist and photographer. He has made occasional gag appearances in television series. He and his wife, Amy Elaine Wakeland, have a young daughter.  Ms. Wakeland is described in the city’s website as “a political strategist, public policy expert and advocate for children and families.”

If Garcetti were to run, it would be a big leap.  History tells us no mayor of a major American city has ever gone from the mayoralty directly to the White House.  Grover Cleveland, the former mayor of Buffalo, later was elected president in 1884. Presidents Andrew Johnson, who had served as a mayor of Greenville, Tenn., and Calvin Coolidge, the former mayor of Northampton, Mass., ultimately dot to the White House.

Calvin Coolidge was elected to the vice-presidency, but only became president when Warren G. Harding died in office. Rudy Giuliani, New York’s mayor on Sept. 11, 2001, ran for president in 2008, but flopped. Johnson, too, had been vice president and became president only after Lincoln was assassinated.

Despite the long odds, Garcetti is aware that at least two other big-city mayors — Bill de Blasio of New York and Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans — are also flirting with the idea.

In addition, other California Democrats are being mentioned, including Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Adam Schiff and, if he wins the governorship this year, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

We might be facing a crowded-with-Californians year, with the mayor of Los Angeles in the middle of it all.

Ed’s Note: Due to an editing error, CORRECTS throughout title of Gil Garcetti to former L.A. district attorney, sted mayor.

 

 


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: