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Biden nominates L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti as U.S. ambassador to India

President Biden selected Eric Garcetti to become U.S. ambassador to India. Garcetti would step down as L.A. mayor after Senate confirmation.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has led the city during a period of booming development, a worsening homelessness crisis and a devastating pandemic, is President Biden’s nominee to become ambassador to India, the White House announced Friday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Garcetti would be the first L.A. mayor in more than a century to voluntarily leave office before the end of his term. He had been scheduled to step down in December 2022, when he would have finished a second term that was extended by 18 months after the city changed its election calendar.

In making the announcement, the White House emphasized Garcetti’s sweeping responsibilities and Los Angeles’ global role, highlighting the mayor’s oversight of the busiest container-ship port in the Western Hemisphere and one of the world’s busiest airports. Garcetti has also networked with counterparts around the globe, including in India, to push for stronger policies to battle climate change.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, holds an interview in his office, after President Joe Biden selected him as his nominee
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, holds an interview in his office, after President Joe Biden announced him as nominee to U.S. ambassador in India.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Garcetti, in a statement announcing his nomination, said he loves Los Angeles and “will always be an Angeleno.”

“I have committed my life to service — as an activist, as a teacher, as a naval officer, as a public servant and, if confirmed, next as an ambassador,” he said. “Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call.”

Garcetti’s nomination signaled that the White House is standing by him amid high-profile controversies that have engulfed the mayor’s office over the last year.

Garcetti and his team face allegations — which they deny — that they failed to address sexual harassment by an aide in his office. Additionally, Garcetti’s chief of staff is on leave following revelations about her involvement in a private Facebook group.

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The announcement of the nomination will likely trigger jockeying among council members to determine who will replace Garcetti for the remainder of his term. But that vote could be months away, following Senate confirmation hearings.

First elected mayor in 2013, Garcetti is poised to leave office as the city continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed many Angelenos out of work and wiped out numerous small businesses. While stores and restaurants have reopened, questions remain over how quickly the city’s tourism industry will rebound and what the future holds for downtown, Hollywood and other business centers.

The L.A. City Council can appoint an interim mayor or call a special election. The council president would serve as acting mayor in the meantime.

An ambassadorship in President Biden’s administration gives Garcetti a new career path, away from electoral politics. But it also opens him to criticism that he is abandoning Los Angeles as it grapples with an intractable homelessness crisis and rising gun violence.

City Council President Nury Martinez, in a statement following Friday’s announcement, praised Garcetti for his work raising the minimum wage and overseeing the city’s COVID-19 response. Councilman Mike Bonin called the appointment “phenomenal,” saying he had seen Garcetti’s diplomatic skills firsthand during trade missions to Asia.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti holds interviews with the media after President Joe Biden selected him as his nominee
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti holds interviews with the media after President Joe Biden selected him as his nominee for U.S. Ambassador to India.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

“He will make a great ambassador and will do Los Angeles proud,” said Bonin, who represents part of the Westside.

Some were not unhappy to hear of Garcetti’s early departure. Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Assn., said she has long been frustrated with his handling of homelessness and trash on the streets.

“Brilliant man, horribly flawed execution as the manager of a city that’s in trouble,” said Lopez, whose organization manages a business improvement district that includes part of downtown, including skid row. “I understand being mayor of Los Angeles involves national and global policies, but not at the expense of what’s happening on our streets.”

The Biden administration could nab L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. If so, he will leave with a mixed legacy.

Garcetti, the son of former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, has a long history with Biden. The mayor urged Biden to run for president in 2016 and served as a co-chair of his 2020 presidential campaign. The ambassadorship nomination is viewed in part as a recognition of the mayor’s loyalty.

Garcetti, in an interview, said the Biden administration raised the idea of the India post in the early spring. The White House called him Thursday to finalize his nomination, he said.

The mayor has traveled several times to India, most recently as a councilman. In college, he spent a year studying Hindi and Urdu — two of the dozens of languages spoken in the country — and during at least one visit stayed at the ambassador’s residence.

“It’s the largest democracy in the world, soon to be the most populous country in the world, one of the top handful of superpowers in the world,” Garcetti said.

Garcetti has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and studied international relations as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. Before he entered politics, he briefly taught diplomacy and international relations at Occidental College and USC.

An ambassadorship in India would allow Garcetti to move on to a new government post without having to run for statewide office in California, as several L.A. mayors have tried unsuccessfully. The job would allow him to work on such issues as pandemic relief, climate change, trade and immigration, offering him new foreign policy experience.

“We can’t get our climate goals without India hitting its climate goals. We can’t see the economy truly reopened to international commerce and tourism until COVID is under control,” Garcetti said Friday. “We’re all very closely connected.”

A Democrat, Garcetti has championed liberal causes, such as increases in L.A.’s minimum wage and local ballot measures that raised billions of dollars to build housing for the homeless and transit lines.

Critics view him as someone whose personal ambitions — he spent two years floating himself as a possible presidential candidate — at times eclipse his focus on the city.

When he announced in 2019 that he wouldn’t launch a long-shot campaign for president, he said he believed that “whenever possible, you should finish the job that you set out to do.”

Last year, he left the door open to joining Biden’s Cabinet, then announced he was staying put just as the city was gripped by the brutal winter surge of COVID-19.

Garcetti’s nomination will need to go through the U.S. Senate, where he could face questions about sexual harassment allegations against Rick Jacobs, one of his former advisors. A Los Angeles police officer who is suing the city said he was harassed by Jacobs, and Garcetti failed to stop it. Jacobs has denied the allegations, and Garcetti has denied seeing any inappropriate behavior.

The case is scheduled to go to trial this fall.

“Mayor Garcetti has been clear that he takes any allegations of harassment very seriously and has made clear this type of misconduct is unacceptable in his office in any form,” a White House spokesperson said Friday, affirming Biden’s support of the mayor. “He has also said that he never witnessed this behavior nor was told about it prior to the litigation.”

Another Garcetti aide, Chief of Staff Ana Guerrero, was placed on indefinite leave last month in the wake of a scandal over disparaging remarks she posted in a private Facebook group.

Garcetti, who lives in the official mayor’s residence in Windsor Square, got his political start in Los Angeles in 2001, when he was elected to serve on the City Council, representing neighborhoods from Hollywood to Echo Park. He served several years as council president as the city confronted a major budget crisis triggered by the 2008 recession.

During his time as mayor, the city continued its recovery, adding high-rise towers, museums and sports facilities. In 2017, he announced during a splashy news event that L.A. had signed a deal to host the 2028 Olympics.

At the same time, Garcetti presided over a construction boom in transportation, building light-rail and subway lines in some of the city’s densest neighborhoods. But for all the focus on commercial growth, the number of people living on the streets also steadily grew, underscoring the sense of a widening economic divide.

Miguel Santana, who was the city’s top budget analyst for much of Garcetti’s tenure, said the mayor served during “the best of times and the worst of times.”

The period saw massive economic growth but also an “unprecedented disparity between the haves and have nots,” said Santana, noting the rise in homelessness and the challenges faced by the working poor during the pandemic.

“The mayor doesn’t own 100% of that, obviously, but this is the Los Angeles that exists today.”

Trinidad Ruiz, an organizer with the Los Angeles Tenants Union, offered a more bleak assessment, saying the mayor has “a legacy of failure” on such issues as tenant displacement, treatment of homeless people and police brutality.

At one point, Ruiz said, Garcetti was out of the state so often that activists put up stickers declaring him “missing.” “His absence wasn’t just physical. There was an absence of leadership as well,” he added.

Today, L.A. is locked in a battle with a federal judge who is demanding that city leaders move homeless people out of skid row by October. The city is also facing a major spike in homicides and shootings. And downtown development was at the core of a federal investigation into bribery and racketeering that led to criminal charges for former Councilman Jose Huizar and one of Garcetti’s former aides, Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan. Huizar and Chan have pleaded not guilty.

Meanwhile, Garcetti’s nomination sets the stage for the City Council to take up the question of who might finish out the remainder of his term.

If Garcetti is confirmed, his replacement would need to oversee the city’s continued efforts to recover from the pandemic. City Hall remains closed to the public, and restaurants and other businesses are still struggling. The city’s financial future remains shaky, even with a huge infusion of aid from the Biden administration.

It’s up to the City Council, which has the power to choose an interim replacement for Garcetti, to determine just how much change the mayor’s departure might bring, said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson.

For Angelenos, the significance of Friday’s announcement “really depends on who the City Council picks as interim mayor,” she said.

“If they pick a caretaker who just continues the policies that are being implemented, their day-to-day lives will not change.”

Smith and Zahniser reported from Los Angeles and Megerian from Washington. Times staff writers Emily Alpert Reyes and Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.


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