When Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey launched her bid for a third term last year, she unfurled a virtual who’s who of prominent elected officials who endorsed her. But one of her earliest and most powerful backers is now having second thoughts. When he first endorsed Lacey 18 months ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti praised her as “a smart, tremendously effective, and clear eyed [D.A.] who always puts the mission of advancing justice for all above everything else.” But on Friday, following weeks of protests against police brutality, the mayor said he was reconsidering his endorsement.
In an interview with reformist criminal justice website the Appeal, Garcetti was asked if it was time for a change in the DA’s office, which has long been lambasted by Black Lives Matter activists for not being tough enough on errant cops. “It may be,” the Mayor replied. His statement was a surprise to the Lacey campaign. A spokesman for the DA said that she had not heard from Garcetti before he made his comments to the Appeal.
Breaking: Today on "The Briefing," @MayorofLA Eric Garcetti was asked about his past endorsement of Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey and whether, as host @matthewferner asked, it's time for a change in the office. Garcetti replied, "It may be." pic.twitter.com/JFgIDeLJlx
— The Appeal (@theappeal) June 12, 2020
Garcetti went on to laud Lacey’s challenger, the reform-minded George Gascón, and suggested that his endorsement of Lacey may have been premature.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for George Gascón, too. I’ve served alongside him,” Garcetti said. “And it was before he entered the race [that] my endorsement was with Ms. Lacey.” It is highly unusual in the collegial culture of Los Angeles politics for a Mayor to admit any misgivings about an incumbent district attorney. Garcetti and Lacey took office the same year. And while Gascón had not officially announced his candidacy at the time of Garcetti’s endorsement, reports of his interest in the D.A. position had already surfaced in the New York Times.
The mayor’s diminished enthusiasm for Lacey comes as Los Angeles is wrapping up a third week of protests against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Black Lives Matter Los Angeles has made removing Lacey a recurrent theme of the protest—leading massive demonstrations outside the DA’s office and Lacey’s Granada Hills home. The group’s members have long criticized her for not charging more police officers accused of misconduct. On Wednesday, Madonna shared a photo of herself at an anti-Lacey protest outside L.A. City Hall.
The irony for some is that the 63-year-old Lacey is a black woman raised in the Crenshaw District, who rose from a working-class family to become the first black district attorney of Los Angeles—indeed, the first and only black person ever elected to countywide office in the Southland.
Garcetti’s change of heart comes as protests against the police killing of George Floyd entered their third week. To the extent that the mayor explained himself in the interview, he suggested that recent highly-publicized clashes with the L.A. police union over the proposed budget cuts may have influenced his changing views.
He told a kind of parable about his father, former L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti.
“My father, before he was district attorney, led the first unit that went after police brutality in the United State of America,” he told the Appeal. “I grew up at the dinner table hearing conversations where he’d go to roll calls and officers in a very old and different LAPD—not saying we don’t still have progress to make—[and they] used to say, ‘If you were dying on the ground bleeding to death, I’d step over you and let you die.”
Lacey has been endorsed by the two main labor unions representing local law enforcement, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents the LAPD, and the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, representing deputies with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The normally prized police union endorsements, always a staple of law enforcement elections, are facing scrutiny, if not stigma, with recent calls to defund law enforcement in response to Floyd’s death.
For Garcetti it would be the second about-face in as many weeks. In another major reversal last week, he dropped a budget proposal containing a 7 percent spending increase for the LAPD, and instead led the charge to shave $150 million from the department. In response, a member of the board of directors of the LAPD union called the Mayor “deranged.”
Recently Lacey has pushed back against criticisms of her office.
On June 3, she told Spectrum News 1 that her earlier attempts to meet with Black Lives Matter supporters had rapidly disintegrated into yelling and screaming. “As DA for the last seven years, we’ve actually prosecuted 21 officers for excessive force. And I’m the only DA in the state who has a pending officer-involved shooting case. Notwithstanding that, I’ve been given no credit for this, and there’s a lot of false rhetoric out there about our DA’s office.”
“A lot of the cases that people shout the loudest at me about are those cases where the man who was killed had a gun or was shooting someone or harming someone,” she added. “And it’s odd to me that those cases seem to be the ones that are put up as examples.”
Gascón is the candidate of criminal justice reform advocates best known as the coauthor of Prop 47, which changed some drug and theft crimes to misdemeanors and allowed offenders to renegotiate their punishments. The 66-year-old former LAPD assistant chief and San Francisco district attorney finished a distant second to Lacey in the March 3 primary. Despite the 20-point victory, Lacey fell shy of the required 50 percent to avoid a runoff. The two will face off again in November, and most observers expect their head-to-head race to be tighter.
Update: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the Mayor’s involvement in cutting the LAPD’s budget.
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