Mayor Garcetti is trying to fly under the radar all the way to the top: we cannot let him.
On June 2013, Eric Garcetti won the mayoral runoff election against city Controller Wendy Greuel. He had 54% of the vote — only 409,000 voted that year in a city with a population of (at the time) 3.8 million. It was the lowest turnout since the 1930s.
Then in 2017, Garcetti held off a runoff election when he won 81.4% of the votes in the March primaries. Still, voter turnout was low at 20%.
It feels improbable that Garcetti would be able to win any L.A. election in 2020. In fact, some Angelenos are shocked that this man has been in his seat for as long as he has. From the cradled son of a district attorney to a pro-developer councilmember and pro-police mayor, he had benefitted from the opacity of LA politics and its unbalanced democratic process. Whether it be for the White House to serve on Biden’s cabinet or to finish out his second term, Mayor Eric Garcetti will walk out of City Hall the quintessential neoliberal career politician: a man who believes there are only private solutions for public problems.
Garcetti’s first headline was a puff piece in the LA Times. While studying at Oxford, he helped organize a hunger strike against Proposition 187, a California ballot initiative that prohibited undocumented immigrants’ use of public services. He phoned a reporter and gave him the scoop about his goodwill. The interview yielded a saccharine “come-up” story about Garcetti’s silver-spoon upbringing. It planted the first seeds of his career.
In 2001, Garcetti made his leap into local politics by running for the open seat to represent City Council District 13 (one of the wealthiest districts in LA). He won by a narrow margin on an exuberant “progressive” platform and a vision as someone “who reflects the district as it is right now, not what it once was.” For the carnival of Hollywood property owners and commercial developers, who saw many parts of the district as land grab opportunities, it’s difficult to imagine better news.
In his seat, Garcetti played the inside with this wealthy elite. For example, one of his biggest advocates since his first term was Kerry Morrison, a notorious voice for the Hollywood Business Improvement District (BID) with a penchant for anti-poor practices such as “cleaning up” public spaces with “Adults with Children Only” signs under the guise of revitalizing the neighborhood.
Morrison welcomed Garcetti with an air of goodwill that would throw the scent off her whitewashing agenda; all the councilmember would have to do is listen to their needs to turn Hollywood into a thrilling playground for the wealthy. In return, Garcetti would find the votes to secure a second (2005) and third (2009) term.
It should be noted that Garcetti paid back the favor when he became mayor by appointing Morrison to work with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and serve on the massively-funded HHH Citizen’s Oversight Committee. Morrison would go on to advocate for the “Trieste model,” an unsustainable and unethical approach to treating people experiencing mental illness, as it permits involuntary commitment and punitive measures to noncompliance. She also wielded her influence on the wealthy elite to push support for other anti-poor candidates such as David Ryu, who ultimately lost in this year’s runoff election for Council District 4.
Garcetti left behind a ruinous landscape of income disparity and unaffordable housing in the wake of his last term as a councilmember. One big vision he had for the district was to reinvigorate parts of Hollywood by raising commercial rent on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. When the historical Hollywood Palladium was at risk of being demolished, he helped bring in live concert monopoly Live Nation to renovate, operate, and exclusively book the venue.
Garcetti’s fondness for bringing in private entities to fix public goods — without the input of his constituents — also wreaked havoc in Silverlake, where historic landmarks at the Sunset Junction were demolished without notice to make way for residential development.
That last point is important, as it would lay down the groundwork for how Garcetti would make choices for his city as Mayor. When he stepped into office, he knew the issues. Public transportation was terrible. The cost of living was too high. It was hard for Black and Brown communities to hold onto their communities as the rich got richer. It seems relatively simple to listen to how constituents vote and use taxpayers’ money to publicly fund the programs that would ameliorate these issues. Instead, he bullishly believes in private money’s ability to offer good solutions for the public.
Many of the projects Garcetti started during his first term were scrapped or slowed down by the time he was re-elected. His second term, in fact, is littered with false starts. Vision Zero, Garcetti’s mission to get to zero traffic-related deaths by 2025, slowed in momentum after the private companies that were funding outreach and research lost interest.
He also is not above courting the Trump administration to secure funds for transit projects, albeit ones that were approved by Congress during the Obama administration, with promises of staging America for the 2028 Olympics. In fact, much of his second term was spent laser-focused on the mega-event that is supposed to save Los Angeles from all its financial crises.
Even today, Garcetti has no idea what it means to commit to the needs of his constituents. One of his latest plays in a years-long series of pro-police decisions was to agree to defund $150 million from his proposed LAPD budget to be reinvested into Black communities, but then build a new police bureau while co-opting Black Lives Matter’s “Reimagine Public Safety” demand.
And then, there’s the 2028 Olympics, the mega-event that is supposed to save Los Angeles from all its financial crises. Garcetti used the first half of his second term to privately fund trips around the world, rubbing elbows with the International Olympic Committee and power-holders to position Los Angeles as a viable host for the tourist event, one that the public never voted on. It is likely, however, that the same public will be on the hook for $3.2 billion if the Olympics goes over budget.
When a career politician survives for as long as Garcetti has with stuffed pockets and a pipeline to corporate media reporters who hold the same interests as LA’s elite, issues will eventually catch up them. They did so explosively in 2020, where the months piled on a public health disaster, an exacerbated housing crisis, continued transit failures, and further police brutality that murders innocent Black and Brown lives. At some point, constituents will look to their mayor wild-eyed over the lip service, the tweets, and press conferences that contradict the bleak reality around them.
The 2020 election in Los Angeles County had the highest voting turnout of all eligible voters (more than 74%) since 1992. Over 4.2 million constituents came out to shift LA County left by voting on propositions and candidates that would prioritize people over profit. This no longer feels like a political culture in which quiet and complement elected officials can thrive. Angelenos are challenging it all, and Garcetti is facing the brunt of that energy.
Both reactionary and progressive groups regularly protest outside the Mayor’s residence. Actions from groups like the People’s City Council frequently employ the phrase “Fuck Garcetti.” And from an establishment perspective, Garcetti’s administration has seen increased scrutiny due to credible sexual harassment allegations made against one of his top aides and fundraisers Rick Jacobs. It’s impossible for Garcetti to hide anymore.
For every Garcetti, there is a slew of other budding opportunists in Los Angeles making their way up the way he did: quietly and with the support of people with deep pockets and interests that are misaligned with public needs. An active LA stops them from gaining power by listening to their deafening silence even as all extenuating circumstances (election, pandemic, holidays) attempt to sway us to do otherwise.
When Garcetti took mayoral office, he had a hollow idea of what he would be doing: “My model of leadership is that it’s such a complicated political landscape in Los Angeles and Southern California, and really in the United States and the world, that the ‘great leader in front of the army with the flag’ model doesn’t work particularly well anymore.” Garcetti will finish his term as a puppet whose mouth moves with the billionaires that he protects, and as the very thing he said he’d avoid being.
It is clear that Garcetti is interested in power. And when people in positions of authority use their influence to accrue still more power, they often wind up so busy that they ignore the human beings whom they’re supposed to serve.
Let’s hope that Garcetti doesn’t wind up in a position where his well-recorded negligence can cause more harm.
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