A first birthday is traditionally a festive moment, where parents invite friends and family over to sip cocktails as they celebrate having survived a diaper-filled and sleep-deprived year. Meanwhile, a toddler urged to open presents ends up far more enamored with their wrapping paper.
The first birthday of Eric Garcetti’s nomination to be the United States Ambassador to India came and went over the weekend—but it was far from a festive occasion for the mayor of Los Angeles. July 9 marked the big day but if you’d turned up at City Hall with a card and a cake you’d likely have been given the bum’s rush; and if you happen upon Garcetti and asked for his thoughts on where his nomination by President Joe Biden stands, he’d likely have smiled, then feigned that your words are inaudible over the roar of a landing helicopter—even if you were both indoors.
This protracted nomination period is an odd state of affairs and one of the more perplexing scenarios to hit City Hall this millennium. And it’s even more curious because when Biden announced Garcetti’s nomination, speculation about the mayor’s post-City Hall future was sky-high. The first media reports of a potential India ambassadorship landed in May 2021—14 months ago. It’s not quite the 22-month gestation period of an Asian elephant, but it’s getting close.
The mood on July 9, 2021, was ebullient. Garcetti and Biden had enjoyed a long-running relationship and the mayor had endorsed the former VP’s presidential bid at a key point in the election cycle. Garcetti later served as co-chair of the committee planning the president’s inauguration, so political reward seemed due.
Before Biden’s swearing-in, Garcetti was frequently mentioned in the media as a potential Cabinet member—perhaps secretary of Housing and Urban Development or Transportation. When those posts failed to materialize, talk turned to a prominent ambassadorship. The nod to India—a country with a population of nearly 1.4 billion and which is considered geopolitically significant—seemed to keep Garcetti on an upward trajectory.
“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,” Garcetti said that day. “Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call.”
But some time after that call the line went down. Now the city has been waiting for Garcetti to leave longer than Vladimir and Estragon were waiting for Godot to arrive.
The reason behind the delay has been well-chronicled. Rick Jacobs, a former top deputy and key advisor to the mayor, has been accused of sexual harassment—including by a police officer on Garcetti’s security detail, who is now suing the city—and abusive behavior toward staffers (Jacobs has denied the allegations). Garcetti’s former communications chief, Naomi Seligman, has repeatedly claimed that the mayor was aware of the behavior but did nothing to halt it.
When Garcetti was asked about the allegations during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in December, he testified under oath that he had not seen and did not have knowledge of any untoward behavior. The committee confirmed the nomination in January but Seligman continued to press her case, which led to GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley putting a hold on the nomination, pending an investigation. In May he issued a report that asserts that the mayor likely knew about the behavior—though Grassley provided no direct proof. That same month, Garcetti’s parents engaged a lobbying firm to push the nomination forward.
Meanwhile, as Garcetti’s wheels have been mired in mud, other key appointments have chugged ahead. Amy Gutmann, Biden’s nominee to be Ambassador to Germany, had her Foreign Relations Committee hearing the same day as Garcetti and began her post in February. Donald Blome, tapped to represent U.S. interests in Pakistan, was the third person on the hearing stand that day; he started his Islamabad gig in May.
As this unfolds, Los Angeles remains stuck in a sort of political purgatory. For months after the nomination was announced, when it seemed Garcetti might be gone by Thanksgiving, there were copious conversations about who should take his place. Some suggested that Council President Nury Martinez become the long-term acting mayor while others said a figure such as former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa be installed on an interim basis. No agreement was reached and at this stage, such discourse is irrelevant.
Garcetti kept a mega-low profile for months, which was a notable counter to the high-visibility tack he adopted after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The attention on the June mayoral primary served to push him even further back in the public mindset. For months, even though he remains in charge until his term ends in December, political observers have been chattering about what feels like a leadership void in the city.
However, Garcetti has ramped up appearances in recent weeks, touting financial investments in a bevy of projects; this weekend he was on hand to celebrate the opening of the $588 million Sixth Street Viaduct. Still, in some ways, it seems that Los Angeles has moved on from the current mayor.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this scenario is that there seems to be no resolution in sight. It’s been suggested that Garcetti withdraw himself from consideration—but that’s probably not happening unless he gets a message that Biden is pulling his support. Perhaps that will occur next week, or maybe it never happens; perhaps Garcetti does indeed end up at a palatial compound in New Delhi.
Until this resolves, Los Angeles, Garcetti, and his nomination are in an uncommon state of limbo. Yes, it’s a milestone birthday, but please, no gifts.
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