By Odysseus Bostick.
Full disclosure here – I phone banked for Eric Garcetti. I walked precincts for his campaign. On Election Day, I got up at three in the morning to drive all the way up to Porter Ranch from Westchester to do a lit bomb to help remind voters on their way to work that it was indeed Election Day and they should most certainly cast their ballots for this man. So, I am biased here and proudly so.
Councilman Garcetti came onto my radar when I was teaching middle school in the Echo Park area. His embrace of the concept of walkability and bikeability as policy issues was the first thing that struck me and digging further into the portfolio of the ideas he champions illustrated to me that he was a profoundly considered, intelligent, and authentic person.
Some time later, I had the fortune of meeting him in person. It was a blazing hot day in Pan Pacific Park. My wife and I had the wild idea to take our three kids to attend the dedication of a Holocaust Memorial plaque in the park. I say wild because our oldest was just five at the time and her sisters were two. Taking them to what surely would be a long, emotionally austere event filled with long moments of reverential silence is really just folly by design. Add to that the fact that it was over 90 degrees without any shade and you’ve got the formula for new parent disaster. But, we were invested in the moment and went nevertheless. It was there I met then councilman Garcetti.
My wife was standing by with the kids at the car where it was cooler while I stood point man at the site of the ceremony. The heat must have kept the crowds at home. We were waiting for the director of the Museum of Tolerance to arrive, just a few of us there, just a Garcetti and a member of his staff actually, huddled under the shade of a newly planted tree when I asked Mr. Garcetti how he could stand to be in such heat with a full suit on and not even look bothered.
He told that wearing a suit was like training for a marathon. At first, running a few miles was a challenge, but as you increase your tolerance you are better able to withstand. With diligence and fortitude, a few miles becomes a breeze and your stamina increases to the point where you can go the distance. For the record, I’m not hyperbolizing this explanation at all.
Fifteen or so minutes later, the Israeli Ambassador showed up along with the director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. My wife and kids joined us along with a friend of ours. Tom LaBonge jogged up a moment later and the event began with an audience of just ten people (my kids included).
Looking back now, I recognize the patterns of Garcetti’s speech that day. It was part of the larger campaign story he told for the next 18 months. What was remarkable was how invested he was in telling it that day in Pan Pacific Park, really just to a few people – most of whom had probably already heard this before. But, it was clear to me that day and many after it that he is a man who is quite passionate and earnestly invested in living up to the sacrifices that have helped place him in the position to succeed.
Can he do it?
Let’s objectively look at the political possibilities ahead of Garcetti. I think this is a two-term mayor positioned to pivot quite naturally into a winning Senate campaign, either ending his second term early to run for Diane Feinstein’s seat in 2018 or completing his full second term as mayor in 2021 just in time to run for Barbara Boxer’s seat in 2022. On both of these, the assumption is that the current Senator retires.
If he ran for Feinstein’s seat, he would effectively only be mayor until he is re-elected in 2017 and then his whole demeanor and our perception of him would change as he begins to campaign for senate. This is the less than ideal version of events because leaving the office of mayor early creates a sense that he ran only to seek out higher office. Regardless of the veracity of that story – I would disagree – it would be impossible to deny to naysayers, people who (as I have said before) are committed to the say of nay.
The year 2018 could be a huge swing year for California. We are scheduled to pick a new governor and if Feinstein does retire, a new Senator. Waiting in the wings is a strong bench of savvy politicians, but for my money, the two most well positioned are our current Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and current Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Rather than toss his own hat in the ring, the more intelligent move would be for Garcetti to eschew a run for either office that year. Jumping into the governor’s race would be premature and if Villaraigosa makes a try, Garcetti’s base would be split.
Better than running himself, Garcetti should support the campaigns of his two greatest potential challengers in 2022, namely, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris for governor and Senate. Campaigning strong for their wins, he locks down two allies for his own run in 2022. Rather than support Villaraigosa, he can neutralize Newsom or Harris against a run for Senate in 2022 by helping them to victory. I can’t imagine a Villaraigosa loss for governor in 2018 would leave him much left to challenge Garcetti in 2022. That’s the path to victory beyond the mayoralty.
What Does Success Look Like for Mayor Garcetti?
Make no bones about it; Eric Garcetti has so far lived quite a charmed life. His ascendancy to mayor has been challenging, but he comes from a solid family very supportive of his success. I say that in a good way. That’s what parents are supposed to do and their ability to do that is quite amazing. Though he has most definitely had to work quite hard to succeed, the stars have aligned for him both in his path to mayor and, looking forward, in his time as mayor.
There are a lot of passive changes coming up that would benefit any mayor of Los Angeles. The economy is inevitably improving around him. A lot of mass transit is going to come together during his term without him doing much, something that he helped to foster as councilman, but with massive help from his predecessor and an extraordinarily organized and mobilized activist population. LAUSD will begin to look a lot better in the eyes of families in the coming four years once the district starts getting more funding through the governor’s new local control formula.
Aside from the dividends rolling down the pipeline, the people surrounding our mayor are his greatest asset, most specifically our city controller Ron Galperin.
Galperin is spearheading the kind of transparent, data-driven collaborative governing Garcetti embraces philosophically. Moreover, Galperin’s identity is increasingly being defined as a tech-savvy fiscal watchdog whose goal is to empower the people. In that, Garcetti has a kind of field general whose future success is dependent upon succeeding in making the mayor look good by using data to make the city function better, thus providing more efficient basic city services.
Our city council – love them or hate them – are slowly embracing policies that match the growing national sense of populism. Specifically, those rooted in providing workers with a living wage. Led by people like Curren Price and Mike Bonin, this arm of city government is working to build coalitions supportive of the kind of progressive ideals a state like California champions. This has the potential to provide ancillary support for Senate candidate Garcetti with the boost of the populism agenda.
All of these things require the passive support of our mayor, but because they are championed by those around him, he is both free to stand alongside the successful endeavors and distance himself from the less successful ones. Couple that diffusion of responsibility with the fact that the legwork on these issues is already being delegated and you have a mayor free to focus on the bigger issues.
The Challenges Ahead
The only two big things Garcetti really must deal with head on are the negotiation of public employee union contracts and choosing what path he wants to take in the coming tax battle regarding an extension of Measure R to support the growth of our public transportation network versus a tax to fix roads and sidewalks.
In truth, the choice between competing tax measures is (once again) another decision diffused across multiple channels. Both taxes will be ballot box decisions voters must make. The only potential pratfall would be if both measures fail. Garcetti, therefore, is more culpable for packaging the presentation wisely.
The real battle is this summer’s public employee contracts. That one battle will dictate the voters’ perception of him as either a leader, a toady, or a consensus builder.
I, for one, fully believe in his ability to run a marathon in that suit. He is a consensus builder, first and foremost.