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Last-minute changes tweaked focus of Garcetti's Washington trip, he says

White House meetings that Mayor Eric Garcetti cited as his primary reason for leaving Los Angeles amid demonstrations over a police shooting of a mentally ill black man were a last-minute addition to his itinerary for a campaign fundraising trip, the mayor's office acknowledged this week.

After The Times reported that Garcetti had attended a reception for his 2017 reelection effort during the trip to the nation's capital, the mayor said in a radio interview that he "could have easily canceled" his campaign event and that "it was not the main reason I was going."

By contrast, he said he could not miss the opportunity to seek federal funding for homelessness programs, even if he had to leave town as the city's Police Commission prepared to rule on whether the controversial shooting was justified.

In response to further questions about Garcetti's travel plans, however, mayoral spokesman Jeff Millman said the meetings with Obama administration officials were not arranged until Sunday, June 7 — the day before Garcetti flew to Washington. The mayor's campaign staff had reserved the flights several days earlier, Millman said.

Garcetti confirmed in an interview Friday that "we had a fundraiser scheduled first." But he said the White House meetings, once they were arranged on the eve of his trip, became the top priority.

"By the time I left, the primary reason I personally was going was for the White House meetings — absolutely," he said. As for the fundraiser, he added, "We had the money all donated, pretty much. I didn't need to physically go there. I decided to go there. It was no longer the primary reason that I was going there."

Critics said Garcetti chose an inopportune time to leave the city because of concerns about possible unrest in the days after top Los Angeles Police Department officials determined that the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ezell Ford was in line with department policy.

The Police Commission ultimately ruled differently, finding that one of the two officers who shot Ford was not justified in using deadly force. The mayor returned to L.A. early on the morning of the ruling, and widespread protests over the case never materialized. But Garcetti still faced questions about whether he had misrepresented the reasons for his June 8 trip.

Harold Ickes, a former President Clinton aide known for raising large sums of money for Democratic candidates, told The Times that he hosted a campaign reception for Garcetti at his Georgetown home. The mayor's two White House meetings, with senior administration officials Shaun Donovan and Jerry Abramson, took place before that and together took up about an hour, according to mayoral aides.

Neither the mayor nor his staff initially disclosed the fundraiser, despite repeated questions from reporters and activists about his trip. Instead, Garcetti said he had left L.A. because he needed to ask federal officials for money to house the homeless and to share with them information about progressive L.A. policing initiatives.

"I will never stop going to Washington for the reasons that I was there," he said at a news conference on Tuesday, June 9, when he returned on an overnight flight. "I'll continue fighting for this city." He had offered a similar justification to protesters who tried to stop his car on the way to the airport Monday morning.

During Friday's interview, Garcetti defended his previous explanations of the trip. He said he had revealed the White House meetings but not the fundraiser to protesters outside his home because they were interested in criminal justice reform.

"Part of the reason I'm going on this trip was in line with what they were concerned about," he said. "I don't feel I have to share with everybody everything that I do. When asked, absolutely and openly, I will tell people everything that I do professionally, from the political side or the policy side."

Last weekend, addressing fellow elected officials in San Francisco, Garcetti offered another characterization of the trip that omitted his campaign activities.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors about how his administration uses data and technology, Garcetti said he headed to the nation's capital after he noticed a spike in the number of homeless veterans in L.A. on a smartphone app he uses to monitor city programs.

"When I looked at that last week, I said, 'I gotta get to D.C.,'" Garcetti said in the speech Sunday. "Got on a plane, sat down with Shaun Donovan — the director of the Office of Management and Budget — saying, 'We need more money. You need our help, we need yours.'"

Times staff writer Cathleen Decker contributed to this report.

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