By Chris Reed.
Sen. Kamala Harris, 53, isn’t the only relatively young California Democrat who’s seen as a potential fresh-faced alternative to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 68, or former Vice President Joseph Biden, 75, for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, 47 – with his military background, part-Mexican heritage, Spanish fluency, Rhodes scholarship and progressive credentials – has seen his tentative steps toward a White House bid win encouragement from pundits and politicians alike.
But Garcetti has a disadvantage that doesn’t hamper politicians like Harris, Warren and Biden who don’t have daily responsibilities for making government work better: He’s a mayor who faces fresh scrutiny each day over how his administration is performing. This has yielded months of critical coverage on three major issues:
1) A Los Angeles Times investigation of a retirement program set up for police officers and firefighters showed rampant abusive practices likely costing city taxpayers “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Under the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), approved by voters in 2001, officers and firefighters can get both regular pay and a pension in their final years on the job.
The Times probe found that nearly half of the 5,000 men and women who signed up for DROP got substantial increases in their pensions by claiming work-related disabilities. The newspaper found broad evidence of workers’ compensation fraud – and no evidence the Garcetti administration ever acted to counter the fraud, even after being warned about it in 2016.
The newspaper also found no evidence the program has saved money, as voters were promised in 2001. And instead of keeping officers and firefighters on the job, DROP reportedly led to the loss of thousands of workers who filed disability claims.
Despite the findings, Garcetti earlier this month gave his blessing to a new police contract that retained DROP as is and gave officers a raise of up to 5 percent.
Recycling, homeless programs drew sharp critiques
2) A new 10-year contract with seven companies to improve recycling citywide has proven a public relations debacle for the Garcetti administration. Landlords have reportedly seen recycling bills go upthree- to six-fold, leaving many scrambling to raise rents that are already considered sky-high. Many individual customers complain bitterly over extra fees added to their bills by the companies for services that previously were provided without additional charges.
City officials claimed to be blindsided by the problems. But as with the DROP program, there’s evidence that Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council dropped the ball. The Times noted that former City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana had opposed awarding exclusive long-term contracts but was ignored. Santana contended that promoting recycling competition was more likely to lead to reasonable rates.
3) The city’s troubled efforts to respond to a burgeoning homeless problem. A 21-page report by Santana released in 2015 concluded that the city spent $100 million a year on homelessness in unfocused, marginally successful ways.
This year, a public backlash has built over the Garcetti administration’s slowness in responding to nearly 6,000 requests to clean up homeless encampments. City statistics released in February showed that 2,400 of the complaints had gone unaddressed for more than 90 days.
In an interview with the Times, City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents a downtown district with a heavy homeless population, depicted City Hall’s response as having failed Angelenos.
On the homeless cleanup front, “How can we go to our constituents and say with a straight face, ‘We will get to this’?” Huizar told the newspaper.
Garcetti has plenty of time to make up his mind about a presidential bid, in terms of qualifying for the ballot in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary in early 2020. He also has some leeway in gearing up fundraising and organizational efforts. The last “outsider” candidate to win the Democratic presidential nod – then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama – didn’t publicly signal his intention to seek the 2008 nomination until October 2006, after spending much of the year saying he would not run.