Eric Garcetti’s presidential endorsement surprised a lot of people. It didn’t necessarily jibe with the leanings of other Angelenos. Additionally, the decision lacked flash.
I’m not talking about Garcetti’s decision to endorse Joe Biden, which he announced last Thursday. Rather, I’m in the Wayback Machine revisiting spring 2007, when Garcetti threw his support behind Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who was in the early stages of a campaign.
It was a whole different era. The Apprentice was still on the air. Garcetti was the City Council president, not the mayor, and had little notoriety outside Los Angeles. At the time there was a seemingly unstoppable wave of momentum for Hillary Clinton; those who endorsed her included Los Angeles’ then-mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.
In endorsing Obama, Garcetti was an outlier in L.A. political circles. Of course, his move would prove prescient as Obama crept up in the polls and began winning primaries. The decision would eventually pay off well for Los Angeles, as when Garcetti was elected mayor in 2013, he had an instant connection with the White House. That relationship eased the process of getting federal dollars for a litany of local transportation projects and other endeavors.
That past is partly why the present endorsement is so interesting. Garcetti doesn’t make big public decisions without a lot of private thought and planning. He reads tea leaves and seeks to anticipate how a move will resonate not just now, but years down the line.
He also, like every other politician, likes to back a winner. Garcetti got it right in 2007. He may have just done it again.
Picking the 77-year-old Biden is not the sexiest selection in a diverse, heavily Democratic city with a thriving progressive base. Los Angeles is seeing large swells of support—financial and otherwise—for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. For some people Biden is the old white guy, a political relic prone to malapropisms. Even with, or perhaps because of his decades of political experience, he can seem more a symbol of where the party was than where it’s going.
One counter argument is that, depending on which news stories you read and which polls you trust, Biden may be more electable than any other Democrat when it comes to a mano-a-mano contest against Donald Trump, that he is the candidate most likely to woo centrist voters and appeal to Republicans fed up with the current president’s penchant for unpredictability. Maybe that’s what drew Garcetti to Biden. Or maybe he really believes in the former vice president’s platform and potential. Or maybe it’s a combination of both or something else altogether.
The endorsement of a Los Angeles mayor does not guarantee a candidate victory in any primary, including California’s delegate-chocked contest on March 3. Still, Garcetti has made himself a national figure, in part through his own exploration of running for president, and he can be effective on the stump, including with his ability to speak fluent Spanish.
Garcetti’s nod, and the timing of it, is deliberate. The mayor has strong relationships with many if not all of the leading candidates, including Michael Bloomberg, and has met with numerous contenders as they passed through L.A. on fundraising sweeps. I’ve seen Garcetti do an amusing Sanders impression.
But Garcetti has a unique history with Biden. During a 2014 visit to Los Angeles, the vice president backed the mayor’s bid to boost the minimum wage in the city. The following year, the two sat next to each other at a round table discussion in the downtown Arts District on clean energy and renewable resources.
The mayor could have been more audacious by backing a different candidate, but opting for Biden is very Garcetti—it’s the move that is most likely to pay off in the long run.
If Garcetti turns out to have bet right, and Biden beats the Democratic field and ousts Trump in November, this would be a win for Los Angeles, since it would mean the re-establishment of a direct connection between 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and L.A. City Hall.
This also could be good for Garcetti personally—if Biden wins, there’s always the possibility the mayor will be tapped for a cabinet post or another high-level job in D.C.
That’s all for the future, but if there’s one thing we have learned about Garcetti, it’s that his crystal ball is 1-0 on these things. Now it’s round two.
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