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Transportation secretary job is off the table. Where does that leave Eric Garcetti?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hasn't ruled out taking a post in the Biden administration.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The waiting game continues for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Angelenos watching to see if he will serve out the remaining two years of his term.

President-elect Joe Biden’s team is announcing nominations for Cabinet positions, but the mayor’s name has yet to be called.

On Tuesday, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was announced as Biden’s nominee for secretary of Transportation, a post for which Garcetti at one point was viewed as a contender.

It has been reported that Garcetti, who is close to Biden and served as a co-chair of his presidential campaign, could be appointed a climate change advisor or to some other climate-related post.

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But former Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy was reportedly tapped this week as Biden’s domestic climate coordinator, further whittling down the number of jobs available to Garcetti.

Others have suggested he could become ambassador to Mexico.

Garcetti hasn’t ruled out the possibility that he may join Biden, helping to stoke the speculation.

Garcetti, whose term ends in 2022, said in October that “it’s more likely than not” that he’ll be mayor in two years but also said he’s open to a role where he could “help the most people.”

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Asked Tuesday about Garcetti’s plans, his spokesman, Alex Comisar, said there were no updates.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to pick former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as Energy secretary and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg to head the Transportation Department.

Speaking at an event Wednesday, Garcetti said Buttigieg is going to be “amazing” as secretary of Transportation. Garcetti has previously called himself an “older, straighter Pete” because of biographical similarities with Buttigieg.

Focus on the mayor’s plans comes as L.A. faces multiple crises, including an alarming uptick in the number of coronavirus cases, rising homicides and a City Hall in financial peril.

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Garcetti has been a regular presence throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, although in recent months he has reduced the frequency of his public briefings. On Monday, he appeared alongside Gov. Gavin Newsom at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center as the state’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccinations was delivered to local healthcare workers.

The pandemic triggered L.A.’s budget crisis, and there is ongoing alarm around City Hall about the state of the city’s finances. Sales taxes, hotel taxes and other forms of revenue are much lower than in previous years, threatening basic public services.

The crisis is being exacerbated by rising employee costs — new raises and increased benefits approved by Garcetti and the City Council and provided to police officers, firefighters and other city workers.

Several city leaders have voiced hopes that a big federal bailout would address the crisis, but it’s unclear when any money might arrive.

Meanwhile, killings in Los Angeles are up 29.3% over last year, and shootings are up more than 33.4% through Dec. 5, mirroring increases in violence that are being seen across the country. The uptick in violence is being highlighted by the city’s police union, which is criticizing City Hall officials for preparing a plan to lay off hundreds of police officers to help solve the city’s budget woes.

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Speaking at a rally Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles to persuade Newsom to appoint a Black woman to replace outgoing Sen. Kamala Harris, Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, took a moment to gloat over the news that Garcetti wouldn’t lead the Transportation Department.

“I’m having a challenge kind of containing myself, because we just won another victory,” said Abdullah, who backed Biden’s nomination of Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge for Housing and Urban Development secretary.

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and other groups are holding daily protests outside Getty House, the mayor’s official residence, to protest Garcetti’s possible appointment to a job in the Biden administration.

A representative for the Biden transition team didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Garcetti.

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Any Biden post requiring Senate confirmation could bring additional attention to a recent lawsuit filed against the city by Matthew Garza, Garcetti’s longtime bodyguard and a Los Angeles police officer.

President-elect Joe Biden named Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as one of five co-chairs for his upcoming inauguration.

Garza alleges that Garcetti’s longtime advisor Rick Jacobs sexually harassed him and that Garcetti saw the harassment and did nothing to stop it. Jacobs denies harassing Garza, and the mayor said he didn’t witness any harassment. Attorneys for the police officer are pressing to take Garcetti’s deposition, and a court hearing on the matter is scheduled for Thursday.

Garcetti’s possible departure from L.A. for a job in the Biden administration would probably spur a special election for mayor. Candidates who have already declared their intentions to run in 2022 are closely following Biden’s moves.

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City Atty. Mike Feuer, a candidate for mayor in 2022, said last month that he hadn’t talked to Garcetti about his plans.

“I see the same speculation that you see,” Feuer said. “And we’re all looking forward to knowing what President-elect Biden does with regard to his appointees to the Cabinet.”

Times columnist Erika D. Smith contributed to this report.


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