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Garcetti’s decision to stay is a relief for some L.A. community leaders

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at a lectern on the steps of City Hall in front of a line of people
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, shown in 2013, said this week that he will remain mayor and not take a job in the Biden administration.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

El Sereno resident Ray Rios has lost three close friends to COVID-19 and watched as the lines at a local coronavirus testing site grew longer this week, a sign of the unending pandemic.

The prospect of Mayor Eric Garcetti leaving to join President-elect Joe Biden during the health crisis was disconcerting to Rios, who said Friday that he was relieved Garcetti is staying in Los Angeles.

“Right now is no time for transition,” said Rios, who heads a homeowners association. “He needs to hold the reins to everything that’s going on.”

In a year marked by massive upheaval and anxiety brought about by the pandemic, some community leaders and activists suggested Friday there was little appetite for a change at the top of City Hall at this particular moment.

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“There’s a case to be made for continuity right now,” said Jon Deutsch, a neighborhood council member in Los Feliz.

Garcetti said Thursday during a news briefing that he was staying put, despite his longtime relationship with Biden.

“Joe Biden told me for the last few years that he was very interested in me coming to Washington, D.C., and there were things on the table for me,” Garcetti said, adding that he told the Biden team this week that he was staying put in Los Angeles.

A Biden transition spokesman declined to comment Friday on Garcetti’s remarks.

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As grades fall and students remained mired at home, Los Angeles teachers will take on more live interaction with students next semester, and school nurses will conduct campus-based tests for coronavirus.

Thursday’s news event felt reminiscent at points of another Garcetti announcement, about two years earlier, when the mayor gathered reporters at L.A. City Hall to say that he wouldn’t be pursuing a presidential run.

At that time, Garcetti cited the resolution of the Los Angeles school strike as being the “kick in the pants” that told him he needed to remain L.A.'s leader. This year, it was the pandemic, he said.

“I don’t think that you leave a city at its toughest moment when you’re its chief executive,” Garcetti said Thursday.

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Whether Garcetti faces blowback for repeatedly appearing to leave his options open for other jobs remains to be seen.

Vicki Halliday, a Venice resident who serves on the neighborhood council, said there have been many problems with the Garcetti-backed homeless shelter in her neighborhood.

She would have liked to see Garcetti move on.

“We need someone stronger in Los Angeles,” Halliday said. “It would have been great to have new leadership.”

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Others pointed to the possible disruption if Garcetti had exited.

South L.A. activist Najee Ali cited community leaders’ confusion following the departure of then-Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar from a district stretching from downtown to Eagle Rock amid a federal investigation.

Local leaders expressed concern over who was running the district and said they didn’t know whom to contact about issues like policing.

“Without a leader, there’s going to be more chaos,” Ali said, envisioning a scenario in which Garcetti had left. “COVID-19 is still running rampant in our city and crime is getting worse.”

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Health officials said Friday that Los Angeles County is on the verge of becoming the nation’s epicenter for the pandemic as local hospitals become critically overcrowded.

Garcetti’s 9-year-old daughter, Maya, tested positive for the coronavirus, he announced at Thursday’s briefing. Garcetti and his wife, Amy Wakeland, tested negative, he said.

Michael Benedetto, who serves on a neighborhood council in Granada Hills, has been thankful for the mayor’s media briefings on the pandemic. Benedetto said he was surprised by Garcetti’s announcement because he assumed he would leave.

“He’s ambitious,” Benedetto said. “I think it would be a steppingstone for him.”

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In some Los Angeles political circles, there is the perception that allegations of harassment made against a former Garcetti aide, and weeks of protests outside Garcetti’s home, hurt the mayor’s ability to land a prominent position with Biden.

Activist groups including Black Lives Matter rallied outside Getty House to protest any Garcetti appointment to a Biden administration.

Black Lives Matter co-founder Melina Abdullah said the final protest was held Wednesday, one day after former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was selected to become secretary of Transportation.

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As vaccines roll out in Los Angeles County next year, Garcetti and other city officials could play a role in helping oversee their distribution. He’ll also be expected to be a booster for industries as the economy comes to life after the pandemic ends.

At the same time, the 2022 mayor’s race will start heating up next year and the focus will increasingly be on who will go on to lead the city.

L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer has already declared his candidacy, and City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents a Watts-to-San Pedro district, is weighing a run, a representative said.

L.A. City Councilmen Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kevin de León also did not rule out the possibility of a run for mayor in 2022 during their recent council races.

Rios, of El Sereno, said he’s grateful that Garcetti is staying because it means there probably won’t be a special election next year — one that could have involved de León, his councilman.

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“It’s like dominoes,” Rios said of politicians’ moves.


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