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Former Obama campaign official says he will challenge Eric Garcetti in 2017

A longtime Democratic operative who played important roles in the first Obama presidential campaign and the Clinton White House said Tuesday that he plans to run against Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2017.

Mitchell Schwartz, 55, said he plans to take out papers for his campaign in the coming weeks. A political strategist who directed Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign in California and served as communications director for the State Department under President Clinton, Schwartz would be the first challenger with a significant political resume to enter the 2017 mayoral race.

“Obviously, I’m a little bit of an underdog,” Schwartz said. “But I’m determined to do this. And once I’m in it, I want to win.”

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Reached at his home in L.A.’s Windsor Square neighborhood, Schwartz said he has been exploring a mayoral run and holding meetings with potential supporters since the fall. He said he decided to enter the race out of concern that the city is not dealing effectively with surging homelessness, rising crime, decaying infrastructure and patterns of real estate development that Schwartz characterized as “out of control.”

“This is not about Eric Garcetti. I know Eric and I like Eric. He’s a nice guy,” Schwartz said. “But the quality-of-life issues that are facing this city are all trending badly.”

Schwartz said he was encouraged by people both inside and outside City Hall who told him that the city was not adequately delivering basic public services. Garcetti placed promises to improve those services at the center of his 2013 campaign.

At the time of the last official count, homelessness had risen 12% since 2013, the year Garcetti took office. Last month the Los Angeles Police Department announced that violent crime had risen 20% in 2015.

Garcetti campaign manager Bill Carrick declined to comment.

Despite his political pedigree, Schwartz could struggle to mount a serious challenge to Garcetti, who will enjoy the advantages of incumbency. As of June, the mayor had already raised more than $2.2 million toward his reelection effort. Three other candidates who have entered the race, all political unknowns, have not yet reported raising any money.

Garcetti can point to achievements, including L.A.’s $15 minimum-wage ordinance, expanded earthquake-safety regulations for apartment buildings and the acceleration of local and federal plans to redevelop portions of the long-neglected Los Angeles River.

“Going into this, you’d have to say that this is the longest of long shots,” said veteran Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, noting Schwartz’s fundraising disadvantage and the absence of any serious scandals marring Garcetti’s first term. “And it’s been my experience that most long shots remain long shots.”

A Schwartz candidacy could nevertheless prove an unwelcome distraction for Garcetti, forcing him to rebut criticisms from a media-savvy and politically connected opponent.

A contested city election could also hinder the mayor from turning his attention to the 2018 gubernatorial race, for which he is widely viewed as a potential contender alongside Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Schwartz’s professed concerns about unfettered development could dovetail with a 2016 ballot initiative proposal that would limit the city’s current pace of growth by restricting large real-estate projects. Garcetti has said he hopes to head off the measure before it reaches the ballot. Schwartz said he has not yet taken a position on the proposed initiative.

“Development is out of control and is ruining big parts of our city,” Schwartz said. “The development is pushing people out … middle-class people just can’t live here.”

In 2009, Schwartz was involved in the unsuccessful campaign for L.A.’s Measure B, a ballot initiative that would have expanded the development of solar-energy panels in the city. Measure B was also backed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents most employees at the city’s Department of Water and Power.

Schwartz said he has not had specific discussions about a mayoral run with the union, which spent millions to defeat Garcetti in 2013. Union officials could not be reached for comment.

Schwartz said he has had discussions with other labor leaders but declined to say which ones.

“I talked to some of the labor folks, but it’s a little too early to say who will support me,” he said, adding that he sees broad public support rather than the backing of monied interests as key to success. “I want to get the support of the people.”

Twitter: @petejamison

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

7 p.m.: This post has been updated with a quote from Democratic strategist Darry Sragow.

This post was originally published at 6:01 p.m.

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