Every Garcetti evasion triggers more questions

With Mayor Eric Garcetti, there seem to be more questions than answers, and it's getting to be a habit

Washington, D.C., is a long way to schlep for two half-hour meetings for the good of Los Angeles, but that's what Mayor Eric Garcetti said he did last week.

It's possible Garcetti has not heard of Skype, GoToMeeting, Facetime, Wiggio or another digital connection that could have saved him the hassle of a cross-country trip.

But I doubt it. Garcetti is a techy guy.

So cynic that I am, I figured there had to be more to the trip back East.

On Monday, my colleague Peter Jamison threw some light on the subject, reporting that the mayor had another piece of business to tend to in Washington. Namely, a fundraiser for his mayoral reelection campaign — an event that he and his staff had failed to mention in earlier explanations.

As I said, I'm a cynic, and it looked to me like the fundraiser might have been the real reason for the trip.

Garcetti denied that. He said Tuesday on KNX-AM (1070) that he would have canceled the trip if the fundraiser was the main event.

I hate to be picky here, but if the fundraiser was not the main event, then why did his campaign pay for the trip?

That's the thing about this story. There seem to be more questions than answers, and this is getting to be a habit. Last month the mayor said a family commitment was one reason he skipped a community meeting about the police shooting of yet another unarmed man, but that excuse didn't hold up under a magnifying glass.

In the case of the far-flung fundraiser, it doesn't help that the mayor's staff was evasive when Jamison asked his questions, telling the reporter an attorney would have to review the request for more details.

Why? Was there something to hide?

Well, maybe. Garcetti left town with protesters outside his house, trying to block his exit. They were angry about the police shooting of an unarmed African American named Ezell Ford, and Garcetti had only made them angrier with his low public profile in the case.

The police chief had defended the cops and the Police Commission was about to issue its findings, with the possibility of trouble, depending on the outcome, and one can see the dread on Garcetti's face in a video of his departure from his home.

Maybe a part of him was thinking: You know what, Eric, this may not be the best time to leave the city; use your head, park the Coliseum-sized SUV and take a minute to talk to the constituents who came all the way over to Windsor Square to pay you a visit.

Meanwhile, another part of him may have been thinking: Naw, I have better things to do than stick around and try to pacify rabble-rousers.

Well, we know which mayor won the hypothetical argument: The mayor who is already thinking about a reelection campaign two years away, even though there's no major opponent on the horizon.

The mayor told a protester concerned about the loss of black lives, "I'm going to D.C … exactly for that reason. I'm going to the Justice Department." He said that if he didn't make his flight, the city could lose "$15 million for homelessness."

He apparently forgot to tell them about the fundraiser.

Now look, I'm entirely supportive of mayoral trips to the nation's capital when there's something to be gained, and Garcetti has enough ties there to get things done. But in this case, I'd like more information.

We're told the mayor spoke to an Office of Management and Budget official about funding for homeless services, but did he get the $15 million? We're also told he spoke to an Intergovernmental Affairs official about L.A.'s role in the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, but what was gained from that chat?

Unclear, but let's give the mayor credit because he definitely brought home some bacon.

From the fundraiser.

As Jamison reported, somewhere between 40 and 50 attendees were asked to donate $1,400 for two hours with the mayor. Who were they and why would Beltway folks care who our next mayor is?

That's not clear yet. And this follows a Hollywood fundraiser at which the press was banned, which makes it difficult for us to know who might expect something in return for their generosity.

The Washington soiree makes you wonder if Garcetti is already thinking beyond his current job and believes it's time to make connections that might help him follow Dianne Feinstein into the U.S. Senate.

Bob Stern, formerly of California's Fair Political Practices Commission, thinks it's simpler than that.

"All politicians are deathly afraid of not being reelected, and they all want to raise lots of money very early on to scare away opponents," Stern said.

Garcetti wouldn't be the first politician to throw in a couple of business meetings along with a fundraising trip, Stern said. But he added that it was "really unfortunate" that the mayor wasn't more upfront about his full itinerary.

"He really should just come out and say, 'Look, I have to raise money for my reelection, and these people in Washington wanted to help."

I sent a volley of questions to the mayor's office Tuesday. In an email response, spokesman Jeff Millman said "face to face" is always better, and the mayor was able to "kick start" the process of trying to get that $15 million, even as he monitored events back home.

Millman said no staffers accompanied the mayor, only the mayor's Los Angeles Police Department security detail. Let's hope security used Priceline or Cheap Flights, because you, dear taxpayers, are picking up the tab on that.

But the juiciest tidbit from Millman was that the initial reason for Garcetti's trip to Washington was not city business.

"He had planned to be in DC for the fundraiser and then worked to set up meetings to benefit Los Angeles that day. When we were able to confirm those high-level meetings … they then became priority...."

We already knew the campaign finance system was a twisted and corrupting force at every level of politics, but leaving the helm at a critical time for a one-day round-trip money grab on the other side of the continent boldly punctuates the point.

There is nothing illegal in any of this, and ultimately the mayor will be judged on bigger issues. Can he make the city safe, create more affordable housing, draw more living-wage jobs and offer some traffic solutions?

But on the big stuff and the little stuff, you can avoid a lot of trouble by remembering what your mother taught you:

Always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The alternatives are guaranteed to make headlines.

Twitter: @LATstevelopez









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