The U.S. Olympic Committee's snubbing of Los Angeles for the 2024 Summer Games was a stinging loss for Mayor Eric Garcetti. But thanks to careful political calculation, it was largely a private one.
For months, Garcetti worked quietly with a close circle of staff members and private-sector partners to woo the USOC, shaking up the leadership team overseeing the city's application and jetting to Colorado and Northern California to pitch L.A. to committee members.
Becoming the U.S. contender for the Games could have opened a path to a defining legacy for Garcetti.
The decision could have marked a serious setback had Garcetti been more openly vested in the Olympics pursuit, as was Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, whose city won the competition.
The USOC requires cities to maintain a degree of secrecy about their bids and campaigns, but even by those standards Garcetti kept a low profile in his pursuit of the Games. Unlike other finalist cities, Los Angeles didn't establish a formal committee to oversee the bid process or a website devoted to the effort.
"Given our Olympic heritage and the overwhelming popular support for the games in Los Angeles, we did not want to raise false hope and hype the bid unless it was chosen by the USOC," said Jeff Millman, a spokesman for the mayor.
To some observers the Olympic effort is an example of Garcetti's cautious approach to ambitious initiatives. And for now, it seems he was able to manage Angelenos' expectations, seeking the reward of landing the Olympics without proportionate political risk.
Because the city's bid was conducted mostly behind the scenes, Garcetti's image isn't likely to suffer because of the USOC decision, said political consultant Rick Taylor.
"It's not been something where he's put his stamp on it, and he has not put his reputation on the line," Taylor said. "I honestly think that the mayor will probably get a pass on it."
Behind the scenes, Garcetti invested heavily in the effort starting last spring, according to interviews with people involved in the process. At the time, the city's bid was being prepared by the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games — the group responsible for bringing the 1984 Olympics to L.A.
Committee Chairman Barry Sanders and President David Simon were spearheading the effort until Garcetti stepped in with the help of sports agent Casey Wasserman, grandson of legendary Hollywood studio chief Lew Wasserman.
"Mayor Garcetti decided to take an active role personally," Sanders said. "We continued to be supportive, but the mayor took the lead. We were not creating the proposal any longer." He referred questions about the management change to the mayor's office. Millman declined to comment on the shake-up.
The mayor's staff reworked the proposal, and Garcetti began selling it. In July he was one of two mayors — the other was Boston's Walsh — to personally lobby the Olympic committee in Colorado Springs.
When members of the committee visited Los Angeles in October, "we literally rolled out the red carpet," City Councilman Joe Buscaino said. During a daylong visit, USOC staff had breakfast in the Tom Bradley Tower Room atop City Hall, took a helicopter tour of the city and enjoyed a private screening of a promotional video at Universal Studios.
On Thursday, Buscaino broadcast his anger on Twitter with angry emojis, asking: "Are you kidding me?! Boston???"
Garcetti was more circumspect, congratulating Boston in a terse statement and saying he was "incredibly proud of the bid we submitted to the USOC."
The mayor didn't publicly expand on the statement Friday.
"We all consider it a loss, and I think maybe the mayor takes it personally because he put himself on the line," said Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger, who consulted with the mayor's office on the bid and helped entertain the USOC in Los Angeles.
"My take on this is that this is not about the mayor losing," Iger said, "and more about the challenge of L.A. getting the bid when we had already had it twice." Los Angeles hosted the Summer Games in 1932 and 1984. Only London has hosted the games three times.
"I can unequivocally say that the leadership of L.A.'s bid was a real strength in L.A.'s bid," USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun said Friday. "Both Mayor Garcetti and Casey Wasserman really impressed our board."
The dashing of L.A.'s Olympic hopes adds to a mixed record for Garcetti as he has sought to brand the city by attracting marquee events and projects. He successfully shepherded the Budweiser Made in America music festival to downtown last summer. But his social media campaign to lure the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art flopped. Star Wars creator George Lucas instead went to Chicago.
The effort to lure an NFL team continues but has been complicated as attention has shifted to a stepped-up bid for a stadium and team in neighboring Inglewood.
"Ultimately, as a mayor of a city the size of L.A., you have to prove your chops," said Democratic strategist Darry Sragow. "Landing these kinds of projects enables the mayor to look like a heavyweight."
It's still too early to draw conclusions about Garcetti's salesmanship, he said. As for the political effects of the failed Olympics bid, Sragow said, "It's not a loss. It's just not a gain."