As far as I know, Eric Garcetti has never run a race against Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. But if the thoroughly modern mayor is offered a plum position in the Biden Administration, I suspect he’d dart from Los Angeles with the kind of speed that would make the Olympic gold medalist’s jaw drop.
Garcetti’s future is hotly discussed both by those who admire him and those who bristle at his name. Numerous articles have surmised that he could be the next U.S. Secretary of Transportation, a result of a longtime relationship with former Vice President Joe Biden that includes endorsing him for president at a key moment in January, and then helping the Democratic party nominee vet potential running mates. The Cabinet-level consideration has sparked daily protests at the mayor’s Hancock Park home, with foes asserting that Garcetti has failed on local issues including homelessness, mass transit, and policing.
.@BLMLA has led us every morning to Garcetti's house to protest his possible cabinet appointment in the @JoeBiden administration. 150% increase in homelessness, 4 unhoused deaths per day, failed vision zero – just a few of @MayorOfLA 's failures.
Day 1 #BlockGarcetti pic.twitter.com/mj26v4W6KX
— Nicolas Emmons (@NicolasEmmons) December 2, 2020
Another possibility is that the bilingual mayor is angling for a different post or an international gig, maybe Ambassador to Mexico.
Garcetti himself is pretty much mum on the topic, which is par for the course. After all, this is the guy who conducted a year-long soft run for president, and whenever he was asked about his ambition, he would deliver a non-answer answer, never copping to the idea but never denying it, either. He didn’t publicly acknowledge his interest in the presidency until the day in January 2019 that he called reporters to City Hall to announce that he would not seek the White House.
All of which is to say, if you want to know what Garcetti will be doing after Biden’s January 20 inauguration, then don’t ask Garcetti. In October he told the L.A. Times that “it’s more likely than not” that he’ll be mayor when his term ends in 2022, which sounds indicative until you realize that it simply means there’s a 50.0000000001 percent chance that he’ll still be residing in Los Angeles. He was asked again about a job with Biden during a November 23 evening coronavirus briefing and said that, “It’s one of the last things on my mind right now,” as he focuses on COVID-19. It may be true, but it’s not close to definitive.
Is a job offer coming? Will any opportunity be undermined by a City Hall corruption scandal and other problems here in L.A.? I have no idea, and unless your name is Eric Garcetti or Joe Biden, or you are a member of their inner circles, then neither do you.
That said, if the call comes, then Garcetti will almost certainly be packing a suitcase before he even hangs up the phone. That’s because a new job is all upside, and provides both short-term benefits and advantages for his political future. Meanwhile, sticking around means being whacked like a piñata for two more years.
The situation is not just about whatever job Biden might award Garcetti, but the one after that, and potentially the next one, too. Recall that in 2018, Garcetti visited 17 different states in the unofficial POTUS exploratory process. Presidential dreams rarely die; consider Garcetti’s simply deferred, as he consults a sort of political Waze to figure out which route will take him where he ultimately wants to go.
A new job is all upside. Sticking around means being whacked like a piñata for two more years.
If Garcetti heads to Washington for a Cabinet post, he’ll lose the big stage that being mayor affords. However, he would gain access to a city that, for the next four years at least, will be controlled by Democrats and the people who love and donate to them. The mayor already networks like a demon, and this would just up his game. Sure, many Angelenos may be tired of Garcetti after his two decades in local office, but nearly everyone who meets him for the first time walks away impressed by his intelligence and tech-savvy vision. He could play big in Washington, and as Transportation Secretary he could direct money—possibly a lot of money—back to projects throughout California.
That could pay off further if Garcetti’s vision board includes running for the U.S. Senate seat that Dianne Feinstein vacates in 2024, or for governor when Newsom is termed out in 2026 (assuming he is re-elected in 2022, which likely occurs providing he stops attending pandemic parties at the French Laundry). Yes, there will be other strong contenders for either post, and numerous obstacles will surface, but any election is far in the future, and unpredictable things happen in politics, as Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral college victory proved.
For Garcetti, doing something different could be far preferable to staying in L.A., where protesters are already outside at his door. That’s just the start, as the impacts of the coronavirus will make the next two years something of a fiscal gulag; city budget officials are predicting revenues will be as much as $600 million below expectations, and that’s before the ripple effects of the just-enacted business rollbacks.
The person who is mayor, or acting mayor, will spend much of 2021 trying to figure out which city services to cut and how many employees to lay off. She or he will have to prepare for a coronavirus-fueled explosion of homelessness in a city already replete with tent encampments and residents who are furious about those encampments. There will be grueling battles both with a police union that wants more money allocated to law enforcement, and Black Lives Matter and other newly empowered entities demanding less money for police.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 case count and death toll will click higher in a doomsday turnstile fashion. L.A.’s political figurehead is going to feel incessant heat.
Garcetti has another reason to head east: He’s been mayor for seven-and-a-half years. He has an extra 18 months in office only because Los Angeles voters approved shifting election day to align with state and federal schedules in the effort to boost previous anemic turnout. A batch of city officials all saw their terms extended. Garcetti could declare that he did the time he expected to have when he initially ran.
Would he suffer blowback for abandoning Los Angeles when it most needs consistent leadership? Absolutely, but even if he stays, the mayoral primary is just 16 months away, and lame duck status would arrive quickly.
So what’s a better job for the next 24 months: Being CEO of a suffering Los Angeles, or riding the tide of a resurgent Democratic party in D.C. that is righting the ship after four disastrous years of Trump?
It may not be much of a choice at all.
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