25 Mar 19
Whittier Daily News
At the City Hall press conference in January where Eric Garcetti took the unusual step of announcing that he was not a candidate for president, a reporter asked if he was ruling out a White House run forever or only in 2020.
The silly question drew a silly answer.
“Garcetti 2040! I’d like to say that right now,” the Los Angeles mayor said, laughing.
It’s pretty obvious that Garcetti aspires to run for president in a year to be determined.
The serious question is what the 48-year-old Democrat could and should aspire to do between now and then.
Speaking with Southern California News Group editorial board members and reporters on March 11, Garcetti was asked if he’d rather be California governor or a U.S. senator, offices for which his name was floated before the 2018 elections won by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Garcetti said he loves an executive role like mayor and governor, but then bluntly expressed his interest in one of the state’s two U.S. Senate positions.
“I would look at that seriously if a Senate seat opened up,” Garcetti said.
Re-elected in 2017 with a record 81.4 percent of the vote, Garcetti has four years to go in what he calls a “supersized second term,” which lasts until July 2022 because of L.A.’s decision to move city elections to even-numbered years to coincide with state and federal balloting.
But speculation about his future abounds, given Garcetti’s relative youth, the prominence that comes with being mayor of a city of 4 million people, and his pointed refusal to rule out leaving City Hall early to pursue higher office.
“The sky is the limit,” said Wendy Greuel, who was an L.A. city councilwoman and city controller when Garcetti was a city councilman, and lost to Garcetti in the 2013 runoff for mayor. “He’s dynamic. He’s inspiring. He’s someone who’s going to continue to be a leader on the national stage.”
One problem with rising to prominence as mayor of a city as big as L.A. is that there aren’t too many ways to rise higher. There’s governor, U.S. senator and president. Everything else is a move sideways or a step down.
“You go up. You don’t go down,” said Fernando Guerra, professor and director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, channeling a politician’s thinking.
Guerra said the possibilities for Garcetti begin with a U.S. Senate bid because that’s the higher-profile office likely to open up next.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, left, and LAUSD Supervisor Austin Beutner, announces at a City Hall press conference Tuesday, Jan. 22, that the two sides have agreed on a new contract. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein was re-elected in 2018, so her term expires after the 2024 election. She’d be 91 then, and would be expected to retire, though she wouldn’t be required to. The timing would be perfect for Garcetti.
Sen. Kamala Harris was elected in 2016, so she’d be up for re-election in 2022. But she’s a contender for the Democratic nomination for president, and she’d leave the Senate if she won the presidency. Garcetti almost certainly would be willing to leave the mayor’s office early for Harris’ job.
If either senator left office early, California law would require Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a replacement, who would serve until the next regularly scheduled statewide election. The appointee could run in the election and probably would have a leg up on any challengers.
Observers think the list of people Newsom would consider might include Garcetti, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.
A run for governor was a possibility for Garcetti until he decided in October 2017 not to enter the already-crowded 2018 race. Now, with Newsom eligible for a second term in 2022, Garcetti wouldn’t challenge a fellow Democrat.
Then, Guerra said, there are “lateral” moves that couldn’t be ruled out.
If a Democrat wins the White House, Garcetti could be considered for a cabinet post, running a federal department. Guerra said the most likely for an ex-mayor would be secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), secretary of Transportation, or secretary of Energy.
Another option in a Democratic administration: Garcetti as ambassador to the United Nations or a foreign country. Garcetti likes to remind listeners about his foreign-policy chops, given his Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University and teaching on the subject at Occidental College and USC, his work in military intelligence as a Navy Reserve lieutenant, and the overseas interactions of an L.A. mayor.
A statewide office below governor. But secretary of state and state controller are the only two that would be open in 2022, as Garcetti’s mayoral term expires. “I don’t think either of those positions is appealing to him,” Guerra said.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors. But the only two seats up for election in 2022 are held by Democrats eligible for another term.
For Garcetti to keep an eventual presidential run in his sights, Guerra said, “He has to stay in the game. Out of sight, out of mind.”
While testing the presidential waters, Garcetti took 12 trips to 10 different states to campaign for at least 21 candidates around the country. In the process, he raised $2.6 million for Democratic efforts through his political action and campaign committees, fundraising events and fundraising emails, according to Yusef Robb, his political adviser.
Garcetti insists he didn’t decide not to run because he couldn’t win, but because he felt he couldn’t campaign while running a major city.
His supporters hope he can influence the Democratic race from the sidelines.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti participates in a homeless count in the Valley Plaza neighborhood of North Hollywood on Tuesday night, Jan. 23, 2018, with Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, president of L.A. Family Housing. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
One way he could do that is with an endorsement before the March 3, 2020 California primary. Speaking with SCNG editorial board members and reporters at the Los Angeles Daily News’ office in Woodland Hills, Garcetti said he’s likely to pick from among five candidates he counts as “close friends.” He named them in this order: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden, and former San Antonio mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro.
Garcetti also can play the role of rainmaker, connecting candidates with campaign contributors in the L.A. area.
And Garcetti could seek to shape the Democratic platform through efforts such as Accelerator for America, the non-profit he founded with Rick Jacobs in 2017 that calls itself “the R&D arm of cities and mayors,” promoting city-style transit and infrastructure projects and economic development to the nation.
Oh, and he can continue to do his job as mayor.
L.A.’s 42nd mayor will be out of office before supporters and critics see the upshot of what Garcetti touts as his biggest accomplishments, such as the 2016 passage of county Measure M (approving a half-cent sales tax to fund mass-transit projects) and city Proposition HHH (approving $1.2 billion in bonds to 10,000 units of housing for the chronically homeless), and securing the 2028 Summer Olympics.
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Critics argue that Garcetti has done little to earn consideration for higher office, and cite rampant homelessness as a sign of his ineffectiveness.
“None of that stuff comes to fruition,” David Hernandez, a Republican activist in the San Fernando Valley who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018, said of Garcetti’s promises about reducing homelessness and traffic deaths.
Hernandez added: “In spite of my opinion of his track record, he would be someone to contend with (in a statewide election). He’s got the young Beto (O’Rourke), (Barack) Obama charisma. He can be Jewish when he wants to be, he can be Hispanic when he wants to be. He’s out of Central Casting.”
Hernandez said he expects Feinstein to retire early to allow Newsom to appoint Garcetti to the Senate.
Such speculation aside, Garcetti supporters see him riding high, his stature raised and voters’ appetites whetted by the mere speculation about a presidential run and his role in ending the teachers’ strike largely praised.
So, what now?
Robb said Garcetti will answer the question “when the time is right,” but for now, “from the platform of the mayor’s office he is serving his constituents in a way that sets models for the rest of the state and the rest of the country.”
Said Garcetti: “I’m not one of those politicians, to my probably discredit, who thinks very far ahead. It has to feel right to me, and not be about a careful plot and plan.”
If it ends with a presidential run in 2040, Garcetti will have the last laugh.