As Los Angeles braced for a ruling last week in the high-profile police shooting of a mentally ill black man, Mayor Eric Garcetti hopped on a plane to the nation's capital, saying he needed to talk to White House officials about community policing and funding for homelessness programs.
"I will never stop going to Washington for the reasons that I was there," Garcetti later told reporters when asked about the wisdom of leaving town a day before the city police commission took up officers' controversial shooting of 25-year-old Ezell Ford. "I'll continue fighting for this city."
But the mayor wasn't in D.C. solely to seek money for his city. In addition to two short meetings with Obama administration officials, Garcetti attended a reception for his reelection effort hosted by one of the Democratic Party's most prominent fundraisers, The Times has learned.
Harold Ickes — a veteran political operative and former top campaign and White House aide to President Clinton — said in an interview that the mayor was at his home in Georgetown on the evening of Monday, June 8, for a fundraising event for Garcetti's 2017 campaign.
Ickes said the reception lasted about two hours and had between 40 and 50 guests, each of whom was asked to donate $1,400, the maximum individual contribution under L.A.'s campaign finance limits.
FOR THE RECORD
June 16, 9:30 a.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the maximum individual contribution for the 2017 mayoral campaign under L.A.'s campaign finance limits is $1,300. It is $1,400.
Garcetti did not disclose the fundraiser last week despite repeated questions from reporters and activists about why he took a cross-country trip as black community leaders awaited a decision in Ford's case. The revelations could intensify questions in some quarters about whether the mayor has kept too low a public profile in the shooting.
Garcetti and his supporters have argued that he is pursuing meaningful policy reforms for the police department — such as body cameras for all officers — but does not want to inject politics into the city's process for adjudicating police shootings. But critics, including Ford's mother, have said Garcetti hasn't been a visible enough figure in the debate over policing and race relations.
Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State L.A., said the mayor's attendance at a political fundraiser "absolutely contradicts" the explanation for his D.C. trip he gave her and other demonstrators outside his house last week.
"He told us he was going to Washington to get money for the sort of resources we need for the black community," Abdullah said. Raising money for his campaign "speaks to his placement of ambition and ego ahead of the interests of an important portion of his constituency," she said.
Bill Carrick, a consultant for Garcetti's 2017 campaign, acknowledged that Ickes held the fundraiser. Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said this week that the campaign paid for the trip, but that the mayor would not be commenting further on his time in Washington.
"We've said everything we have to say on it," Millman said. "We've given you the schedule and we said what he did."
Garcetti left L.A. early Monday morning and returned Tuesday on an overnight flight. He was back in town Tuesday when the police commission determined that one of the two LAPD officers who fatally shot Ford last summer was not justified in using deadly force. Later that day, Garcetti met with Ford's mother, who praised the mayor for finally reaching out to her but said the meeting came "10 months late." Afterward, the mayor held a news conference at which he spoke admiringly of Tritobia Ford's "quest for justice" for her son
Mayoral aides refused last week to provide details about what Garcetti did during his trip. Millman said such information would have to be reviewed by an attorney before it could be released.
On Friday, Millman issued a calendar for the mayor's activity in Washington on June 8 that included just two appointments: A meeting with White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jerry Abramson from 5 to 5:30 p.m. and with Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan from 5:30 to 6 p.m.
In a brief interview last week, Garcetti said he offered Abramson's office feedback on LAPD initiatives for the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force, which President Obama established last December, is soliciting information from across the country about best practices in law enforcement. In the meeting with Donovan, Garcetti said, he sought additional funding to address homelessness in L.A.
White House officials said the meetings with Garcetti involved "a range of important priorities, including veterans' homelessness, climate change and community policing."
After his June 8 White House meetings, the mayor said, "I did see friends on the — before I went to the airport, for a moment."
Garcetti declined to say last week whether he had engaged in fundraising for his campaign in D.C.
"We don't ever discuss campaign fundraising stuff, but you can certainly ask the campaign about that," he said, adding "that's a set policy and it's not me being whatever."
Millman said that the mayor was not referring to the Ickes fundraiser when he spoke about seeing friends, but to a social engagement that fell afterward.
The day before the police commission acted, a small group of protesters blocked the mayor's car as he tried to drive to the airport for his flight east.
In an exchange that was caught on video and posted on the Internet, one demonstrator said, "Black people are dying."
Garcetti responded, "I know that. I'm going to D.C. ... exactly for that reason, actually. I'm going to the Justice Department."
He also suggested the city could lose "$15 million for homelessness, if I don't make this plane."
Ickes, who also held a fundraiser for Garcetti's 2013 mayoral campaign, said that last week's reception had been planned several months in advance at the mayor's request.
"He knocked on the door again, and we were perfectly happy to do it," Ickes said.
In his remarks to guests at the fundraiser, Garcetti didn't discuss Ford's shooting at length, Ickes said — although he hinted that he had to return to Los Angeles promptly because of a police-related controversy.
"He said there were issues that he had to get back and deal with, but he didn't go into any detail," Ickes said.
Garcetti, who is halfway through his first term as L.A.'s mayor, began fundraising for the 2017 election in March. He is not yet facing any significant challengers.