Sixty-six days after reports surfaced that he would leave office, and eight years after he became the 42nd mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti looks to be on the way out. The White House revealed today that President Joe Biden has nominated the 50-year-old mayor to be the next U.S. Ambassador to India.
“Today, the President announced that I am his nominee to serve as U.S. Ambassador to India. I am honored to accept his nomination to serve in this role,” Garcetti said in a statement. “I love Los Angeles and will always be an Angeleno. I want you to know that every day I am your Mayor, I will continue to lead this city like it is my first day on the job, with passion, focus, and determination. I have committed my life to service—as an activist, as a teacher, as a naval officer, as a public servant, and if confirmed, next as an ambassador. Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call. And should I be confirmed, I’ll bring this same energy, commitment, and love for this city to my new role and will forge partnerships and connections that will help Los Angeles.”
Exactly when Garcetti will step down is unclear. The nomination requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate, but no timeline for a vote has been announced.
The change is dramatic if not unexpected. On May 4 Axios reported that Biden was considering nominating Garcetti to be Ambassador to India, which would shift the mayor from the Getty House in Hancock Park to the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. Talk has only ramped up since then, and in recent weeks expectations of a formal announcement have been rampant.
It was not the first time a potential appointment made headlines. Garcetti stumped hard for the Democratic party nominee during the 2020 presidential campaign, and after serving as co-chair of the committee planning Biden’s inauguration, the mayor was widely discussed as a possible Cabinet member, most frequently as Secretary of Transportation or Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Neither of those came to pass, nor did talked-about roles as a special climate change advisor or Ambassador to Mexico.
In December Garcetti acknowledged that he had been offered an unspecified job in the incoming Biden administration, but said he had turned it down. With the pandemic raging, he stated during an evening coronavirus briefing, “I let them know early this week that my city needs me now, and I want to be here, and I need to be here.”
Much has changed since then. Los Angeles, which during the winter surge was seeing approximately 15,000 new cases and as many as 300 COVID-19 deaths each day, now claims one of the lowest infection rates in the country, and hospitalizations have plummeted. The economy is rebounding and Garcetti has helped roll out vaccinations across the region, including standing up city inoculation sites that have administered more than 1.35 million doses. That includes mobile efforts to reach high-needs communities.
It is unclear precisely how being Ambassador to India appeals to Garcetti. However, the ambitious mayor has long had international predilections. As a teenager he was part of a medical relief mission to Ethiopia, and he spent time studying as a Rhodes Scholar. In 2018 he told the Wall Street Journal that he had traveled to 83 countries. He regularly consults with mayors around the globe on climate change and other matters.
Garcetti has spent 20 years in elected office since joining the city council in 2001. He served as president of the panel for six years, and became mayor in 2013. He was re-elected with 81 percent of the vote four years later. His second term was extended by 18 months when the city shifted its election dates to align with state and federal voting schedules.
His legacy will be hotly debated. Garcetti will leave with accomplishments including securing the 2028 Summer Olympics and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and he also ignited the effort that led to raising the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour. He helped persuade county voters to pass a sales tax that facilitated a mass-transit building boom, and was the face of a pair of ballot efforts to get Angelenos to dig into their pockets to pay for housing and services for people experiencing homelessness.
Despite those advances, homelessness has surged during his time in office (just as it has across California), and the price of constructing permanent supportive housing has soared, leading many to question the mayor’s effectiveness and priorities on the matter. He has also come under fire for his steps on police reform, and in the past year Black Lives Matter and other activists have protested frequently and loudly outside his home.
Some observers believe that becoming Ambassador to India both allows Garcetti to get away from local critics, and opens up a new world of opportunity for him, potentially leading to future positions in international diplomacy, or possibly allowing him to regroup before another run for elected office.
Yet his departure also threatens to throw Los Angeles into a kind of political turmoil. Traditionally when a mayor leaves town, the City Council President (currently Nury Martinez) becomes acting mayor. But that is generally viewed as a short-term post, and in this case a temporary “caretaker” mayor could be appointed to fill out Garcetti’s term that runs through next December.
The situation is complicated by a mayoral election scheduled for 2022. The primary takes place in June, and if no candidate in an expected thick field earns more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers would advance to a November runoff. Given that timeline, a special election is unlikely, with the probable result that the city goes more than a year without a permanent chief executive.
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