Mayor Garcetti adresses the crowd gathered at the corner of César Chávez and St. Louis. PHOTO: City of Los Angeles

By Libby Denkmann/LAist

Originally published Jul 9, 2021

President Joe Biden has nominated Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to be U.S. Ambassador to India.

The move comes after Garcetti, who is 50 years old, scrapped the idea of his own 2020 presidential bid and then was reportedly passed over for various cabinet positions in the Biden Administration.

Garcetti issued a statement that reads, in part: “Today, the President announced that I am his nominee to serve as U.S. Ambassador to India. I am honored to accept his nomination to serve in this role.”

Garcetti’s appointment still must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. If it goes through, he will leave City Hall more than a year ahead of schedule — his second term, which was extended because of a change in the city’s election calendar, isn’t due to end until December 2022.

The news comes during a rocky time for Garcetti’s office: last month, his chief of staff was placed on administrative leave for sexualized and disparaging Facebook comments she made about city staff, elected officials and the labor icon Dolores Huerta, and members of his staff are still being deposed in a lawsuit by a former bodyguard to the mayor who claims Garcetti and his inner circle tolerated sexual harassment by a top aide and major fundraiser.

Just this week, the deposition by a former Garcetti director of communications was unsealed. Naomi Selinger said under oath that Garcetti was warned by senior staff about inappropriate behavior by Rick Jacobs, who has held several prominent positions in the mayor’s orbit. In his own deposition, Garcetti said he did not recall seeing any harassing behavior by Jacobs.

Garcetti, the son of former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, was first sworn-in as Mayor in June 2013, after representing Silver Lake and parts of Hollywood on the city council for about a dozen years. On his path to the mayor’s office, Garcetti defeated City Controller Wendy Greuel, another moderate city hall insider, overcoming heavy spending by labor unions on her behalf.

In 2017, he was re-elected with an overwhelming 81% of the vote — but it was another electoral victory marked by extremely low turnout. Voter participation in L.A.’s mayoral contests has been eroding since its peak in the 1960s, helping to spark a campaign to reschedule municipal elections to sync up with higher profile state and federal races.

Garcetti’s time at the helm of the nation’s second-largest city has been bookended by crises: when he ascended to the mayor’s office, L.A. was climbing out of a recession; his final year in office has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

L.A.’s youngest mayor in modern history — he was 42 when he was first elected — Garcetti came into office promising to focus on job creation and the “brass tacks” of running city government, such as fixing sidewalks and trimming trees.

His ambitions were always larger than filling potholes, however. In joining networks of elected officials around the country and attending global conferences, Garcetti positioned himself as a national leader on climate change and touted the benefits of innovation and open data to spur solutions to the city’s problems.

Garcetti also solicited tens of millions in charitable donations to an independent non-profit he helped create, The Mayor’s Fund, which responded to various challenges in the city during his administration, including immigrant rights and veteran homelessness, and distributed pre-paid debit cards to L.A. residents during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The Mayor aimed high: putting together a winning bid for the Olympics in 2028 (a distinction not without its critics); championing tax measures to fund major transportation and housing plans; and launching a “Green New Deal” for Los Angeles, which ramped up L.A.’s use of solar energy. During his tenure, the city has cut its greenhouse gas emissions and Garcetti set an ambitious goal of moving L.A. to 100% renewable sources of energy by 2045.

But critics say Garcetti under-delivered on promises, particularly in response to the homelessness crisis.

Programs he’s supported have gotten thousands of people into shelter or housing, but solutions aren’t keeping pace with the scope of the humanitarian catastrophe evident on L.A.’s streets, under bridges and overpasses, and in nearly every green belt in the city. The estimated number of unhoused people in the City of L.A. was close to 30,000 the year Garcetti took office. Today, the most recent data available from theJune 2020 count puts the city’s unhoused population at more than 41,000, a number that’s likely to rise this year because of the pandemic.

In the city’s budget for the fiscal year that started July 1, Garcetti plans to spend close to $1 billion to prevent and alleviate homelessness — nearly seven times what he allocated to the problem five years ago. It appears, however, that the Mayor won’t be around to see if a slew of new money will finally make a dent in the decades-long disaster of homelessness in L.A.

This isn’t the first time Angelenos have heard Garcetti had one foot out the door. A couple years ago he was spending a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, exploring a campaign for President in the 2020 election. He decided against running himself, but became a national co-chair of the Biden campaign, fundraising and stumping for the future president. That led to speculation that Garcetti would secure a cabinet appointment in the Biden Administration as a reward for his efforts.

Since last summer, however, Garcetti has been facing a lawsuit from an LAPD officer who was part of the mayor’s security detail. The officer claims that Rick Jacobs, a former close aide to the mayor, sexually harassed him and other city employees — behavior the mayor was allegedly aware of and tolerated. Garcetti was deposed and has denied the accusations. But the scandal reportedly contributed to derailing his hopes for a cabinet post.

The case is ongoing, and reporters are seeking to get several depositions by former city hall staffers — including Jacobs himself — unsealed.

Garcetti will have to be confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then by the full Senate.

Assuming the mayor’s seat becomes vacant, City Council President Nury Martinez will automatically become acting mayor. The city council can then either call a special election or — much more likely — vote to replace Garcetti for the remainder of his term, through 2022. Already, a third of the 15-member city council are either considering their own campaigns for mayor or have declared their candidacy — so it may be tough to find an interim mayor who’s considered “neutral” enough to gather support for the job.

The son of a Jewish mother and Mexican-Italian-American dad, Garcetti often delivered remarks and answered reporter questions in Spanish. He joked during his initial mayoral campaign that he was “mestizo doble, double mixed.”

Before running for public office, Garcetti got his start at L.A. prep school Harvard-Westlake, followed by an Ivy League education: Columbia University for an undergraduate degree plus grad school, later a Rhodes Scholarship that took him to Oxford. An avid jazz pianist, he briefly considered a career in music. Garcetti reportedly co-wrote musicals with a pal at Columbia — Brian Yorkey, who went on to win a Pulitzer and Tony Award for Next To Normal.

In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, the future mayor taught courses on political science and international affairs at Occidental College and USC. He also served as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, enlisting in 2005.

Garcetti’s statement also said: “I love Los Angeles and will always be an Angeleno. I want you to know that every day I am your Mayor, I will continue to lead this city like it is my first day on the job, with passion, focus, and determination. I have committed my life to service — as an activist, as a teacher, as a naval officer, as a public servant, and if confirmed, next as an ambassador. Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call. And should I be confirmed, I’ll bring this same energy, commitment, and love for this city to my new role and will forge partnerships and connections that will help Los Angeles.”

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2021 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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