The Mayor Slayer: Naomi Seligman’s Relentless Crusade Against Eric Garcetti

Eric Garcetti’s former communications director Naomi Seligman has been telling anyone who will listen—including the U.S. Senate—that the man who would be ambassador to India oversaw a culture of “sexual battery” at City Hall. Does her story hold up? Or is Garcetti the one being victimized?

It began as do so many love stories gone awry, with a kiss.

It was April 2016 and Naomi Seligman, the mayor’s communications director, was hosting a celebratory gathering in her office on the third floor of City Hall. The day before, her boss, Eric Garcetti, had delivered his third State of the City address at a manufacturing plant in Harbor City, a speech that had been considered a blowout success, at least among the mayor’s comm staff. And now nine of Seligman’s coworkers were taking a victory lap and patting each other on the back.

But then, according to Seligman’s version of events, Rick Jacobs, one of the mayor’s top advisors, burst into the room and the mood shifted dramatically. 

“Rick grabbed me,” Seligman, 49, says, “pinned my arms and kissed me on the mouth for a long time in front of my staff. Then he let me go, said ‘Congratulations, everyone,’ and rushed out of the office.” Seligman says she was so stunned by what she describes as an act of “sexual battery” that she immediately reported the extended embrace to Garcetti’s chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, who at the time she considered a close friend and confidante. “She just looked at me with a stony-eyed glare,” Seligman recalls of Guerrero’s response. “She just rolled her eyes and said, ‘You know, there is nothing we can do about it.’”

It is, of course, important to believe all women whenever they claim to be the victim of sexual assault. But in order to believe Seligman’s account, one would need to disbelieve several other women present at that gathering, all of whom have entirely different recollections of what transpired, none of which include Jacobs kissing Seligman. “Our comms staff is a collection of some of the wokest folks in the building; not just in the mayor’s office, but in all of City Hall,” one of them says. “There’s a zero percent chance there would be sexual harassment in the open against our boss and no one reported it.”

“I was present on that day,” adds Garcetti’s chief speechwriter, Becca MacLaren, “and, categorically, did not witness any such act.”

Ana Guerrero is equally emphatic, denying that Seligman ever came to her with a complaint about Jacobs kissing her on the mouth, much less that she would brush off such a charge if it had actually been made. “I barely have the words to describe how infuriating a lie like that is,” she says. “It’s just preposterous.”

Whoever one believes about what happened—or didn’t happen—in Seligman’s office on that day in 2016, the moment marked the beginning of one of the fiercest and most befuddling feuds ever to roil City Hall. It’s a raging battle royale that involves not just 64-year-old Rick Jacobs (who, by the way, is gay) but also a Fox News-loving police officer named Matthew Garza (who would later also accuse Jacobs of sexual harassment, around the same time he filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Church for sexual abuse); or the Los Angeles Times (which, for unknown reasons, killed a story about the veracity of Seligman’s charges against Jacobs); or the United States Senate (which would weigh in on the whole sensational affair in its own way); and, above all else, Eric Garcetti, who Seligman is now accusing of running a Mafia-like administration that punishes whistleblowers like herself while protecting alleged abusers like Jacobs.

Rick Jacobs in 2013 (Araya Doheny/Getty)

To be clear, Garcetti himself is not being accused of any sort of sexual misconduct. Yet, because of Seligman, he currently finds himself in the crosshairs of a #MeToo scandal that may very well scuttle his political future. It has already killed his chances for a spot in Joe Biden’s cabinet and now threatens to sink his Senate confirmation as Biden’s next ambassador to India.

A kiss is just a kiss, as Louis Armstrong once sang, but this particular lip-lock, if it indeed really happened, all but blew up City Hall.

Before Naomi Seligman sits for an interview, she lays down some ground rules. If this story ends up containing any factual inaccuracies, she will sue the magazine. If her credibility is questioned in any way, she’ll sue the magazine. If this story ends up blaming or shaming the victim (in Seligman’s view, that’d be Seligman), she’ll sue the magazine.

Strangely enough, though, when she finally settles into a 90-minute phone chat, she couldn’t seem nicer, at least for a time. Talking to Seligman is a bit like conversational roulette. One minute she’s sweet as sugar, the next cold as ice. But she’s always rigidly on point—a savvy and highly trained communications expert with nearly 30 years in the biz.

Seligman grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts—the daughter of a contract lawyer and a marketing director—and attended The University of Massachusetts Amherst. One of her first jobs out of college was working in the communications office for Montana senator Max Baucus, followed by a string of other D.C. jobs. In the late-2000s, she spent a few years as director of communications for D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the watchdog group that pursued Louisiana senator David Vitter after prostitute Wendy Ellis came forward claiming he’d been a three-times-a-week customer. It was during this last gig that Seligman first encountered Rick Jacobs, here in L.A., at a lunch at Chateau Marmont.

They were introduced by London-born journalist Andrew Gumbel, Seligman’s then-boyfriend—now her husband—who at the time was a correspondent for the Guardian and the LGBTQ magazine The Advocate. (Gumbel has also occasionally been a writer for this magazine.) Gumbel and Jacobs had been long-time acquaintances, first meeting back in 2003 when Gumbel was covering Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, on which Jacobs served as California chairman. At their lunch, Gumbel, a former pupil at Oxford and the son of a high-flying British business executive, pushed Jacobs to find a job for his girlfriend in L.A. Jacobs didn’t come through, but Seligman ended up moving to L.A. anyway. In 2009, she took a job at the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog and later opened the West Coast office for FitzGibbon Media, a left-leaning PR powerhouse that was shuttered after its founder, Trevor FitzGibbon, was implicated in his own sexual harassment scandal. She and Gumbel married in 2010 and soon purchased a home in Santa Monica where they still live today. 

About five years after their meeting at the Chateau Marmont, however, Jacobs finally did find Seligman a job. He was now a senior advisor to Garcetti, who’d been elected in 2013. When Yusef Robb left as Garcetti’s communications director in 2015, Jacobs lobbied for Seligman to be Robb’s replacement. After she got the gig, Gumbel emailed Jacobs, “I wanted to . . . thank you for thinking of Naomi for the comms job and for being so supportive of her candidacy so many years after that delightful lunch we had together at Chateau Marmont . . . One pleasant side effect is that you and I will be seeing each other more than every few years. I very much look forward to it.”

At first, it was very pleasant indeed—at least for Seligman and Jacobs, if not necessarily the rest of the mayor’s staff. “Both Rick and Naomi had this snarky attitude that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” remembers Poonam Narewatt, who worked as an aide in the mayor’s office around that time. “But Rick hired her, and they had a good relationship in the beginning. In a lot of ways, their personalities were similar.”

Exactly what went wrong between them isn’t entirely clear. There was no single dramatic flashpoint that wrecked their work relationship, although there were some obvious bumps. In November 2015, for instance, the mayor’s office issued a written endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, which was followed up an hour later with a puzzling retraction: “Today’s statement on Hillary Clinton was sent in error.” That error, it turned out, was that Seligman had released the endorsement prematurely and on a city email server, which violated ethics protocols against using government property to conduct political business.

“Naomi sat in Rick’s office all day crying because she had made a big mistake,” says Narewatt. “I’m not sure if Rick yelled, but their relationship deteriorated quickly after that.”

According to sources, as Seligman’s alliance with Jacobs began to fray, she started shifting her attention to a different power point in the mayor’s office—Chief of Staff Ana Guerrero. The two women gradually became close friends and started regularly going out for drinks and dinners together. But that relationship would eventually fizzle as well.

In fact, Seligman’s knack for making office enemies seems to be rivaled only by Jacobs’s. “I didn’t trust Naomi Seligman,” Anna Bahr, another former staffer (who until recently served as a spokesperson for Karen Bass’s mayoral campaign), later testified under oath. “I found her to be a very abusive boss . . . [She] frequently criticized my physical appearance. She berated me regularly [and] was very unkind toward other women in the office.”

“Patently untrue,” Seligman says in response to those accusations. “I did not criticize [Bahr’s] appearance. I have a long history of working with women and mentoring women.”

“Both Rick and Naomi had this snarky attitude…they had a good relationship in the beginning. In a lot of ways, their personalities were similar.”

To some staffers, the war between Seligman and Jacobs over the alleged 2016 kiss was a bit like two scorpions circling each other in a bottle. Except those who were in the room where the kiss supposedly happened seem to be entirely siding with the older, male, gay scorpion. “Jacobs wasn’t a popular figure around here—let’s put those cards on the table,” says yet another person at the event. “There is zero advantage for anyone here to be defending Rick Jacobs. [But] absolutely positively [there was] no incident where Rick came in and made out with Naomi to the horror of her entire staff and walked out leaving her humiliated. I don’t know why she made it up.”

There are some who do believe Seligman’s account. One is Jamie Court, her old boss at the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog. But then, he wasn’t anywhere near City Hall when the kiss allegedly occurred. “There’s no way you can be in the presence of Rick Jacobs for any amount of time and not see him doing something abusive like that,” Court says. “[Seligman] is 100 percent right. What she’s doing is courageous and correct.” Another is Rebecca Ninburg, an L.A. city fire commissioner who was appointed by Garcetti, but who also was not present for the alleged kiss. “I care about Naomi, and Naomi is not a liar,” she says. Ninburg also testified that Seligman told her about the incident shortly after it occurred, though she was notably hazy about the date.

Ask Seligman why not one of the nine people who were actually there that day has come forward to corroborate her version of events and her voice turns icy. “There is enormous pressure to have loyalty in that office,” she says. She claims that her former coworkers are lying in order to please their bosses, even though several have moved on to other jobs or left politics entirely. “By ‘loyalty,’ I mean it in sort of the Godfather sense,” Seligman says. “What I mean is that it’s a very vindictive administration. You either toed the line or you were out; there was no middle ground. The staff that worked with me that are still indebted to Mayor Garcetti are falling in line with the administration’s story.”

And yet it must be noted that for months after the alleged kiss, Seligman and Jacobs continued to work and socialize together. In June of 2016, Jacobs even agreed to host a party at his Hollywood home to celebrate the publication of Seligman’s husband’s new book, Down for the Count: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America. Seligman, Gumbel, Jacobs, and his then-partner exchanged numerous, playful emails about the planning of the event. (“You have enough tables, linens, stemware, etc?” Gumbel wrote in one. “If you need any of that, it’s no problem. Just let me know . . . ”) And there was little evidence of friction at the party itself, where 60 guests enjoyed guacamole and chips in Jacobs’s backyard while Gumbel’s daughter hawked copies of his book in the driveway.

According to Seligman, however, the party got off to a very rocky start. She and her husband were among the first to arrive, and Jacobs greeted them by kissing Gumbel on the lips—”for some time,” according to a horrified Seligman—before casually strolling back into his house. “He’s a predator,” she said while being interviewed a few years later on the Lunch with Stormy podcast. “He’s gay. He’s an equal-opportunity abuser. He kissed me and then weeks later kissed my husband in front of me. And my husband had known him for over a dozen years and said that in all that time he’d never done that. But what Rick did was, he kissed my husband then he looked over at me like, ‘I can do anything in front of you. Even kiss your husband. I have power over you.’” (Gumbel declined to comment for this story.)

Neither Seligman nor her husband took any actions after that kiss—they simply attended the book party. A little less than a year later, in September 2017, Seligman resigned from her job as Garcetti’s communications director, supposedly to spend more time with her family and build her own communications business. The mayor’s office threw her a send-off party—lavish by City Hall standards—at a Mexican restaurant called Señor Fish. The mayor was among the many VIPs in attendance. Rick Jacobs, however, did not make an appearance.

But he did send Seligman a genial text message. “Is today your last day at the office?” he wrote. “I just wanted to wish you the very best, to enjoy the new calm and a great new year.” To which, Seligman replied, “Thank you, Rick. I appreciate the note very much. L’Shana Tova.”

Meanwhile, another #MeToo-adjacent scandal was brewing in City Hall, this one also revolving around Jacobs.

Garcetti’s longtime friend and advisor—they too met during Howard Dean’s 2003 campaign for president—has cut a flamboyant figure in California politics for decades. Rick Jacobs grew up in Tennessee, worked for a time at Occidental Petroleum, then shifted to political advocacy, creating the Courage Campaign, the plucky gay rights group that helped overturn Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. But he’s been just as well-known for extravagant fundraising soireés at his home in the Hollywood Hills, with guest lists filled with liberal luminaries and activists like Arianna Huffington, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation, and Jeremy Mill Bernard, the Obama’s White House social secretary.

It was not unheard of for Jacobs to get drunk or overly effusive at these parties, but most people were willing to overlook that. After all, he could be a formidable ally. And in 2013, he grew even closer with Garcetti and his wife, Amy, when he marshaled deep-pocketed Hollywood activists and celebrities to support Garcetti’s mayoral run, raising $2 million for his campaign. Nobody was surprised at his appointment as a top aide when Garcetti took office. Many of his former City Hall colleagues remember him as a voluble, competitive and occasionally short-tempered workaholic who sometimes seemed socially and culturally out of step with his much-younger colleagues. “He could certainly be a dick,” said one frequent antagonist. “But I don’t think anyone saw him as this scary predator.”

But in July 2020, LAPD officer Matthew Garza, 46, who served on Garcetti’s security detail from 2013 to 2019, filed a lawsuit against the city alleging a pattern of sexual harassment on the job. By the time of Garza’s lawsuit, Jacobs had long left City Hall to start a new non-profit, Accelerator for America, that pioneered innovative solutions to metropolitan problems. But he remained a close advisor to Garcetti, who had signed on as the project’s co-founder. Among Garza’s accusations: That Jacobs repeatedly lobbed lewd comments at Garza and frequently engaged in unsolicited neck massages and hugs. “He’s a sick pervert,” Garza testified about Jacobs. “He’s trying to get, maybe, a cheap thrill off of hugging somebody who’s young and strong and who he thinks is somewhat attractive.” For his part, Jacobs says he might have hugged but never harassed Garza, and he dismisses the harassment charges as “pure fiction.” Asked under oath if he found Garza attractive, Jacobs didn’t miss a beat. “Not particularly!” he replied.

Rick Jacobs and Matthew Garza at Dodgers Stadium (Photo credit: Rick Jacobs)

Far more politically damaging, though, Garza also alleged that Garcetti knew about the harassment but turned a blind eye toward his longtime advisor’s misbehavior. Garza’s pitbull lawyer, Greg Smith, the go-to attorney for the L.A. Police Protective League, even floated a theory for why Garcetti might be ignoring Jacobs’s transgressions: Smith speculated in filed legal papers that Garcetti was secretly gay or bisexual—as if that somehow might explain a tolerance to sexual harassment. At one point, Smith even included questions to Garcetti about his sexuality in the deposition sent to the mayor, although those questions were later withdrawn after Deputy City Attorney Doug Lyon angrily pointed out how homophobic Smith’s theory was. “What I was doing was investigating every possible aspect of the case,” Smith told Los Angeles. “We were thinking perhaps there might have been some relevance to that. And I don’t think that gay men have greater tolerance for that type of thing than straight people.”

In any case, as lawyers for both sides began investigating and taking statements, Garza found a surprising ally: Naomi Seligman. On the day the Los Angeles Times reported Garza’s lawsuit, started phoning up ex-coworkers to solicit testimony against Jacobs. In subsequent weeks, only one offered an account of anything like sexual harassment: Henry Casas, an amateur bodybuilder and one-time community relations officer in the mayor’s office, recounted how Jacobs had once squeezed his bicep and commented on how strong it was. Suzi Emmerling, a former associate of Hillary Clinton who succeeded Seligman as the mayor’s communications director—and who remains to this day a close ally of Seligman’s—helpfully turned over dozens of text messages she’d collected in which staffers and friends of the mayor and first lady complained about Jacobs’s behavior, including one from Anna Bahr in which she supposedly claimed that Jacobs had “groped” her fiancé. But, again, it was hardly a smoking gun.

The announcement of Garza’s lawsuit, however, did flush out one or two people who actually did like Jacobs, particularly other cops on the mayor’s security detail. “If you speak with any officer, we all had the same view of Mr. Jacobs,” says retired LAPD sergeant Shawna Green. “He did his job, treated us with respect, and vice versa.” So far, not one of Garza’s fellow officers has come forward to corroborate Garza’s harassment complaints against Jacobs.

In much of the media coverage of the accusation, Garza’s version is widely accepted as fact, as is his allegation that Garcetti covered up for his advisor. The L.A. Times published a slew of stories—often relying on Seligman as a source—to suggest that Garcetti had perjured himself when he told investigators he didn’t know about Jacobs’s alleged harassment. New York magazine ran a 3600-word piece by Alissa Walker titled simply “The Mayor Knew.” But whether the mayor did know is apparently a subject of debate, even among Garza’s lawyers. “This is something that bothers me from the beginning,” says a source close to Garza’s legal team. “It could very well be that he didn’t know at all.” 

Smith, who led the charge against Garcetti, now declines to comment on the mayor’s knowledge, declaring the question irrelevant. “We don’t need to prove that the mayor knew,” he says. “We just have to prove that he should have known or somebody in a high position knew.” That person, he suggests, may well be Ana Guerrero.

Plaintiff’s Exhibit 5 from the civil case of Garza v. City of L.A. This image shows Rick Jacobs placing his hand over the crotch of an activist while both pose with Mayor Eric Garcetti.

But while the media seemed more than eager to buy Garza’s story, there were reasons for doubt—not the least of which was a 319-page confidential report assembled by powerhouse Sacramento-based attorney Leslie Ellis of Ellis Investigations law firm, which, in September 2020, had been contracted by the city to launch an independent investigation of Garza’s accusations. Ellis, whose firm specializes in complex workplace cases, interviewed 28 witnesses, including Garza, Jacobs, Garcetti, and his wife. She concluded that, based on a “preponderance of the evidence,” Garza’s allegations against Jacobs were without basis in fact. According to Ellis, no harassment had occurred and therefore there had been no coverup.

Seligman, though, who had rebuffed an interview request from Ellis and predictably slammed the findings of the Ellis report, remained undaunted. She later volunteered her own testimony against Jacobs to Garza’s attorneys, describing a dinner during which Jacobs allegedly pantomimed oral sex with a piece of arugula (“He started putting it in and out of his mouth like he was giving fellatio,” she said). She also took part in unilaterally—and erroneously—outing some of her former coworkers as “survivors” of sexual battery at Jacobs’s hands. 

For instance, Seligman described an incident in which Julie Ciardullo, former chief counsel to the mayor, was allegedly dry-humped by Jacobs in a senate elevator during a trip to Washington until the mayor told Jacobs to “cut it out.” Seligman wasn’t there but claims that she heard about the incident when Ciardullo came to her and complained. In her own testimony, though, Ciardullo only allowed that Jacobs may have brushed up against her bag in the elevator. She described the incident as a joke initiated by Jacobs about how narrowly Garcetti and his entourage fit into the tight quarters of the old-fashioned lift but denied that any dry-humping had taken place.

Seligman also turned over a text she had received from her former deputy Alex Comisar, who wrote, “Got hit on by Rick again.” Asked about the message by Garza’s attorney, Comisar insisted that he had no memory of writing it. “I am denying . . . that I ever felt uncomfortable, that I ever felt harassed, and ever intended to complain about that or to come forward about that.”

“I had no idea that text existed,” said Comisar in a subsequent interview with Los Angeles. “When I heard Naomi put it on the record in her deposition, I was devastated to be brought into this whole episode about alleged victimhood against my will.”

Then, rather stunningly, Seligman also turned on her old boss, Garcetti, who, until that moment, she had remained close with, attending social events together, pocketing $11,000 in contracts from the office holder fund he controlled, and regularly texting him. “Thank you for being who you are. Sending you love and strength,” she messaged him on May 31, 2020. 

Five months later, in October 2020, she was attending Ana Guerrero’s 50th birthday party in Malibu, where she lavished praise on the woman who she later accused of brushing off her complaints about Jacobs, calling Guerrero “an incredible human being.”

Seligman’s explanation for her obsequious texts and toasts? “You never leave the Garcetti family,” she says, somberly. “Like The Godfather, there was this culture of omertà. I felt terrified!”

Now, though, less than a year later, in June 2021, she was obviously much less terrified. Indeed, she was taking direct aim at the mayor and his staff, declaring in her deposition in the Garza case that they “knew, discussed, and did nothing about the harassment and abuse that took place for years.”

Seligman and Garza were the strangest of all possible bedfellows. She has long fancied herself a social-justice warrior who, after leaving City Hall, grew ever more passionate about the progressive cause. Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2018 seemed to be especially triggering. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s harrowing testimony about nearly being raped by Kavanaugh in high school inspired Seligman to revisit a similar incident from her own past. As a high school senior, Seligman had become inebriated at a party and engaged in sexual activity with a college boy, which she now, nearly 30 years later, characterized as rape. She tracked down the boy, who went on to teach at a college in Kentucky, and filed a Title IX complaint against the school, attempting to get him fired, then talked about the incident during an emotional appearance on CNN with Anderson Cooper. So far, her alleged attacker hasn’t been fired, but Seligman has continued to press on. She turned the entire ordeal into a 2021 TedX talk titled “Why We Need to Know #HowToMeToo.”

Garza, on the other hand, couldn’t be less woke. Although he declined to talk to Los Angeles, associates describe him as embittered and furious with Garcetti for cutting the police budget by $150 million after the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020 sparked the Defund the Police movement. One fellow officer, Dennis O’Sullivan, claimed in an interview with the city’s independent investigator that Garza had called him and angrily denounced Garcetti’s pivot to Black Lives Matter, swearing that he’d sue the city over the mayor’s poorly worded, much-quoted comments about the police being “killers.” Garza was also angry at the Catholic Church; a month after he filed the harassment suit, he filed another claiming he’d been abused by a priest at the St. Benedict’s Catholic Elementary School in Montebello when he was ten years old.

At the time he filed those suits, Garza was on a prolonged leave of absence from his police-force job—he had back problems and a daughter with a disability—an absence that was extended many months by the pandemic. Investigators suggested that he was also dealing with financial problems. According to associates, he spent much of that time holed up in his home drinking beer and watching Fox News. But he’s back on duty now, at the Metro Division, working crowd control at protests while he waits for his million-dollar case against the city to go to trial.

Though Garza is not suing Jacobs personally, his lawsuit has had its desired effect. Jacobs was effectively excommunicated from the mayor’s inner circle in October 2020, shortly after the Twitter personality Yashar Ali posted a piece alleging that Garza wasn’t the only alleged victim of Jacobs’s harassment. The story referenced an anonymous former aide who claimed to have been “forcibly kissed” by Jacobs. Ali also went on to write about his own uncomfortable experiences being kissed by Jacobs while attending social functions at his house. Ali’s story blew up Garcetti and Jacobs’s long friendship overnight.  In short order, Jacobs was forced out of his job at Accelerator, and several of his biggest consulting clients fired him soon after. “He went from a political powerhouse to a pariah in just a few days,” says one colleague.

“We don’t need to prove that the mayor knew. We just have to prove that he should have known or somebody in a high position knew.”

Seligman next turned her attention to Garcetti, traveling to D.C. and enlisting the help of GOP Senator Chuck Grassley to probe into the allegations surrounding the mayor’s alleged part in covering up Jacobs’s alleged bad behavior; Seligman finding an ally in Grassley is a rich bit of irony, as the senator was one of Brett Kavanaugh’s most passionate defenders as a rape accusation against him emerged in 2018 during his confirmation hearings to become a Supreme Court Justice. Despite the contrary findings of the Ellis Report, the Republican senator’s team of investigators—the same group that looked into Kavanaugh’s past—found the mayor “likely knew or should have known” about the aide’s alleged sexual misconduct during the years they worked together in City Hall. Five members of the Senate Judiciary Committee—the five Republicans—were more than willing to accept those findings. A few Democrats, like Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, also expressed their reservations. The White House, meanwhile, responded by denouncing the Grassley report as a partisan “hit job,” pointing out that “many of the claims have already been conclusively debunked by more serious independent reports.”

Still, the accusation was enough to kill Garcetti’s chances for a spot in President Biden’s cabinet. And it may well be enough to sink Garcetti’s long-stalled hopes to become the next ambassador to India, at least if Seligman and her advocates at D.C.-based Whistleblower Aid have anything to say about it. “We’re looking at this case from a national security and resilient democracy perspective,” says Libby Liu, CEO of the nonprofit legal assistance organization, which helps cover the legal and travel, and PR expenses of people it represents. “India is such a geopolitically important country and one with rampant sexual abuse and crime and terrible gender relations. It’s very important from a policy position not to put an ambassador there that can’t represent our values.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti before a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing for his nomination to be Ambassador to the Republic of India on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

It’s important to remember that history is filled with whistleblowers who were discredited by the powers that be as liars or crazy or disgruntled, but who ultimately proved to be completely honest, totally sane speakers of truth. The name Martha Mitchell comes to mind.

Seligman may well turn out to be another Martha Mitchell. It is, after all, not entirely impossible that all nine of the people who were in her office on that fateful day in April 2016 are dissembling Garcetti loyalists covering up for the mayor and Jacobs. It’s not impossible that the kiss really did happen, exactly as Seligman says it did. 

What’s a little unusual this time around, though, is that the powers that be are having an oddly difficult time discrediting this particular whistleblower in the press, despite what appears to be ample ammunition. Indeed, the media seems all too willing to take Seligman’s charges at face value, never mind the truckloads of potentially contrary evidence. In its waning days, the Garcetti administration all but served up Seligman—and Garza, for that matter—on a platter to the Los Angeles Times. Sources say that seven of the people attending the City Hall gathering in April 2016 talked to a Times reporter in February, each one of them disputing Seligman’s account of the kiss. But after devoting three weeks to the story—an eternity in newsroom time—the piece was spiked for reasons nobody outside of the Times may ever know.

“I never got a satisfactory answer as to why they didn’t do the story,” says Alex Comisar, Garcetti’s director of communications back then. “I think at the end of the day they were afraid to do a story that would suggest a sexual harassment accuser might not be telling the truth. It seems like that’s what happened.”

Meanwhile, as Garza awaits his day in court, Seligman continues to press her case against Jacobs and Garcetti (In a LinkedIn post in April, she compared herself to the victims of British comedian Jimmy Savile, who allegedly raped dozens of mentally ill children in England over the course of six decades). And she’s also energetically continued her campaign to scuttle Garcetti’s future in politics. She’s flown to Washington, D.C., meeting with senators (including Grassley), and warning them about her old boss. After Garcetti testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in December, claiming he had no knowledge of sexual harassment in his office, Seligman posted that her one-time friend and boss had committed “felony perjury.”

How this will all end up is anyone’s guess. The White House says the president remains committed to Garcetti’s nomination and is convinced the mayor did nothing wrong. But is the administration prepared to spend its shrinking political capital to get him over the finish line? Many observers expect the matter to be resolved in the next few weeks before the Senate goes on recess in August. “Biden feels very loyal to Eric, but he wants this finished, one way or another,” says a source close to the White House. “No one wants to see the guy twisting in the wind like that.”

Naomi Seligman moderated a panel in 2017 featuring Mayor Eric Garcetti, in which they spoke to journalism and communications students at Getty House on a curated panel about the state of journalism for women. (Getty House)

Getty House

She’s also continuing to marshal her considerable skills as a media savant to remake her own public image, presenting herself as a crusading warrior fighting for women who, like her, have suffered sexual violence. Or at least something sort of like sexual violence. “I think just helping women to understand having sex that you really didn’t want to have but you felt you couldn’t say no to is trauma,” she recently opined while appearing on Lunch with Stormy. “I just want to make sure that we validate that experience as trauma. That is trauma. That is being violated. I just want to say that out loud so people don’t feel like they have to minimize that experience.”

And what of Rick Jacobs, the man at the center of this still-gathering storm? After leaving City Hall in October 2020, he all but disappeared. There were no more appearances at political events. No more boozy book parties at his Hollywood home. Friends whispered that he lost 30 pounds. Others hinted that he was suicidal. 

But earlier this spring, Jacobs began to cautiously reemerge. He’s reportedly been popping up at gatherings across town, trying to find life after Garcetti, which is not an easy thing to do in Los Angeles. He’s even been spotted flying back and forth to Washington D.C., for what purpose he alone knows.

In fact, it was on one such flight that Jacobs found himself in a tight squeeze even more uncomfortable than in that senate elevator where he allegedly dry-humped Julie Ciardullo’s handbag. By some bizarre coincidence, Jacobs found himself seated just across the aisle from none other than Eric Garcetti. For a few awkward moments, they pretended to ignore each other, fiddling with their tray tables and staring straight ahead.

Finally, just before takeoff, one of them broke the ice. For a few minutes, they traded banal pleasantries. Then the plane took off and they resumed ignoring each other. They haven’t exchanged another word since.

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