About two years ago Mayor Eric Garcetti launched a soft run for president, but abandoned plans before ever formally declaring his candidacy. Six months ago he appeared to be on the short list for a spot in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, only for the prospect to dissipate like smoke in the wind.
Now, Los Angeles’ 42nd mayor could finally be headed out of town, though his next chapter would take him far from his home city, and well beyond Washington: media reports say that Biden is considering nominating Garcetti to be his ambassador to India.
This would be a seismic shake-up both for the mayor and the city he has led since 2013. Here are some questions that are likely to come up if Garcetti actually jettisons L.A. for a post halfway around the world.
Is this really happening? The possibility of Garcetti going to India first surfaced a week ago in an Axios story. When asked about it, the mayor’s spokesman described it as “speculative,” but did not shoot down the concept, making the response feels like a non-denial denial. Then, Monday evening, Garcetti’s office said that the mayor would be in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday and today. Ostensibly the trip is to discuss infrastructure funding, but the reasoning felt as thin as wax paper.
Does this 100 percent mean that Garcetti is Biden’s man in New Delhi? When it comes to ambassadorships, never count on anything until the POTUS speaks it into being. Plus, the gig requires confirmation from the Senate, and there is always the possibility of an unexpected hurdle rising in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If that happens, he could remain in L.A.
In December Garcetti said he had turned down an unspecified job in the Biden Administration, saying his city needed him. So how will he justify leaving? The corollary to the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” is, “where there’s a politician, there’s a side door.” Expect that door to be flung wide open.
If Garcetti is indeed leaving, when he speaks to the citizenry he will almost certainly argue that, by June 30, he will have served eight full years as mayor, and the only reason he has more time is because Los Angeles shifted election dates to align with state and federal ballots, thereby supersizing his second term by approximately 18 months.
Garcetti will also argue that although the pandemic continues, he led the city through the hardest part, and that with the economy reopening, and coronavirus caseloads and hospitalizations at the lowest levels since the early days of COVID-19, Los Angeles is healthy enough for him to move on. Expect him to say he would never depart if the city was still suffering, but that the worst has passed.
What does this mean for Los Angeles? The Garcetti haters, including Black Lives Matter and other protesters who have repeatedly demonstrated outside his Hancock Park home, may cheer his departure—but from a political and leadership standpoint, this will be brutal for the city.
A mayoral election is scheduled for next June (with a runoff in November), and that proximity means a hastily called special election is unlikely. The most probable scenario is that a respected figure who promises not to run for mayor is called in to serve as a “caretaker” until the election is complete. This also allows Nury Martinez to continue to serve as president of the City Council, rather than be acting mayor for an extended period.
From a political and leadership standpoint, this will be brutal for the city.
The problem is, a number of thorny issues are at hand, and even the most accomplished caretaker lacks the heft of an elected mayor. Homelessness remains a travesty, and inconsistent leadership amid Judge David O. Carter’s order that housing be offered to everyone on Skid Row by October will not help. Then there is the topic of police reform, which requires a mayoral focus. Also, don’t forget that the mayor just recently released his so-called “justice budget.” If Garcetti is not here to push his priorities, some will fall by the wayside.
The reality is, even if Garcetti has been battered in the last year, Los Angeles needs him just as much as it did in December.
What does this mean for Garcetti? Many will wonder why the mayor would head to a country known for intense poverty that is being decimated by COVID-19. The feeling is that if he takes a passage to India, Garcetti will be completely forgotten.
That is likely the case…in the short term. But when it comes to Garcetti, one should always play the long game. While many people will accept a job because they like or need it, with Garcetti one has to consider how this post positions him for the next job, or the one beyond that.
Garcetti is incredibly ambitious and, having recently turned 50, is still young in the political universe. Only a fool would think that he thinks he’s peaked.
Garcetti enjoys operating internationally—witness his involvement with groups that bring together mayors from around the world. Additionally, after helping Los Angeles get widely vaccinated, he could bring that expertise to India, and be a liaison to a president who in the next year will face heightened calls to get the world inoculated. If Garcetti proves to be a successful conduit, then he puts himself in play for a next plum gig. Maybe that means a future Cabinet post, or the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, or something else.
Leaving Los Angeles may rob him of a chance to run for elected office in the state in the near future, but then again, California opportunities are limited—Gavin Newsom likely has another six years as governor. If Dianne Feinstein opts to give up her U.S. Senate seat in 2024, then Congressman Adam Schiff and others likely have a clearer path than Garcetti.
Maybe Garcetti goes to India, takes the next job after that, then runs for governor when Newsom is termed out in 2026 and people have forgotten how difficult the last year was and focus instead on the L.A. Olympics happening in 2028. That may be crystal balling, but the point is, ambassador to India could open up opportunities that Garcetti may be considering, even if most of us are not. These could even be outside electoral politics. Is a Garcetti Diplomatic Institute at a local university a possibility years in the future? Sure. Could he launch a climate change nonprofit? Absolutely, and it may be more likely after he returns from India.
In short, new chapters are about to begin.
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