The Garcetti-to-India Waiting Game Has Pushed L.A. into Political Purgatory

Two months after rumors of an ambassadorship started circulating, Los Angeles still doesn’t know if its mayor will stay or go—and that uncertainty could have ramifications
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Way back on May 4, at a time when the Lakers and Clippers were both seen as NBA title contenders and before the Delta variant was much of a concern in Los Angeles, Axios reported that Eric Garcetti was in contention to be named the United States Ambassador to India by President Joe Biden. The mayor’s office worded its response carefully, calling the report “speculative” but not shooting down the idea.

The subject has been on the front burner ever since, with local, national, and international media outlets reporting on possibilities and reverberations. This includes a May 26 Axios follow-up stating that “President Biden is ready to nominate” Garcetti to be his representative to the country of more than 1.3 billion people. In Los Angeles, the idea of the mayor trading the Getty House, his home of the last eight years, for a compound in New Delhi is part of seemingly every political discussion. At least three times I have heard connected sources whisper that the official nod is just days away.

Yet despite all the rumors, reports, assumptions and it’s-about-to-happens, it has now been 65 days since the original story broke, and the mayor is still just the mayor, with no need to book a ticket to India. For all we know a nomination could come tomorrow or two hours from now, but at this moment all Garcetti and the city of Los Angeles have is bupkis, which I write both because it’s true, and because there are too few opportunities to use the word “bupkis.”

Angelenos have no clue if or how long their mayor intends to stick around, which is a horrible dose of uncertainty for the municipal mindset. The situation is growing more confusing by the day—speculation ignited again last Friday when Garcetti unexpectedly appeared at the White House as the World Series champion Dodgers were meeting the president. That same day, Biden revealed seven key nominations, including ambassadors to Germany and Ghana. It seemed certain that Garcetti’s nod was next… but he soon returned to Los Angeles, with no nomination requiring U.S. Senate approval.

What’s going on? I have no idea, and unless your last name is Garcetti or Biden, or you are part of their inner circles, then neither do you. Whereas sometimes one can read political tea leaves, right now those leaves appear plunged in tar. There is also zero clarity from Spring Street, and when the mayor has been asked about the possibility of being nominated, he has verbally bobbed and weaved with Garcetti-like brilliance, invoking the concept of “diplomacy” and acknowledging that he talks with the president, but professing that those conversations are private.

It is to the point that Los Angeles has become mired in political purgatory, and the situation will persist until either the president formally nominates Garcetti, or the mayor himself states that the job is not happening and he is remaining in Los Angeles, potentially until December 2022, the end of his super-sized second term.

One can understand why Garcetti would want out. He has been mayor for eight years, and with the coronavirus, an intractable homelessness crisis, harsh media coverage, and occasional protests outside his home, the gig is now a grind. A diplomatic assignment could start a new chapter for the ambitious, 50-year-old politician.

One can also understand why Team Garcetti is mum on the topic—ambassadorships and other federal posts emanate from the White House. Being presumptive and speaking up before POTUS is ready is a perfect way to ensure that a dream job blows up in one’s face, Wile E. Coyote style.

Outside City Hall, it simply prompts Angelenos to wonder if their mayor wants to be here.

The problem—er, one of the problems—is that with two months having passed since the first report, people are asking why it’s taking so long and wondering what the heck is at play. Early on the primary question was simply, is Garcetti the right person to send to India? Now, the leading query has morphed to, is Biden backing off due to discomfort sparked by media reports about the “culture” of the Garcetti administration? Two mayoral aides have made headlines in recent months, one for allegations of sexual harassment and the other for talking smack about revered labor activist Dolores Huerta.

The next problem results from the uncertainty. On the purely political level, a gaggle of politicians pondering Garcetti jumping ship threatens to make him a lame duck, which could imperil any plans he has for the city, whether they involve the budget, homelessness or something else. Outside City Hall, it simply prompts Angelenos to wonder if their mayor wants to be here.

Bring everything together and there are far more questions than answers, which is almost never a good thing when City Hall is concerned. But we have seen this movie before: A few years ago Garcetti flirted with running for president, though he never officially joined the race. After Biden won the election last November, speculation abounded that Garcetti would join the incoming Administration, either in the Cabinet or with another high-level post. Then, during a televised December coronavirus briefing, Garcetti told Angelenos that, with COVID-19 flaring, he had turned down an unspecified job, and would stay home.

“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,” he said.

Whether Garcetti still feels that way, or whether the president even wants him, we have no idea. And having no idea is the biggest problem of all.


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