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Mayor Garcetti has served up big, heaping plates of waffle

Mayor Eric Garcetti has served up strong arguments in favor of raising the minimum wage. But on other key issues he hasn't taken a stand.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was at his best last week when he spoke to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors about raising the minimum wage.

“Poverty is expensive,” he said. “When we lose billions in lost wages, when we see folks who can’t support themselves, who winds up paying for it? We do.”

Garcetti, who can be smooth at the podium, served up a concise, articulate argument.

Home run, knocked it out of the park.

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But way too often, the mayor doesn’t get the bat off his shoulder.

The Pacific Rim trade pact is a good example of Garcetti demonstrating that he doesn’t have the stomach for tough choices that might alienate someone.

If he backs President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal for a freer flow of goods, it might tick off local labor leaders who oppose the deal. But if he comes out against it, it would be a snub of Obama, especially because L.A. is a major Pacific Rim trade city with much to gain or lose depending on how this plays out.

So where’s Garcetti stand?

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He’s not even on the fence. He’s behind it, where nobody can see him.

Two weeks ago, my colleague Peter Jamison quoted Garcetti on the topic:

“I’m in general supportive of trade.”

Another profile in courage.

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“If things can resolve without him having to take the brunt of it,” former City Councilman Bernard Parks told Jamison, “he’s going to take that path.”

That’s not the kind of mayor Los Angeles needs.

L.A. is like a child, and it needs someone to supervise it, discipline it, and help it figure out what it wants to be. It also needs someone who can guard City Hall and change all the locks every couple of weeks, so labor leaders and developers don’t keep letting themselves in and helping themselves to whatever they want.

City Council President Herb Wesson is taking advantage of the leadership vacuum, and/or seeding his own future run for mayor, by acting as if he’s already got the job. He’s vowing to lead a conversation on race, take on the challenge of job creation, reform neighborhood councils and craft a more cost-effective approach to homelessness.

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It’s true that in L.A.'s form of government, most power rests with the council. But Garcetti can hire, fire and strong-arm department heads, and he could use his considerable communication skills to set a clear agenda and lead the way.

In addition to his support of the minimum wage hike, he’s been reasonably decisive on earthquake preparedness and cheerleading for Silicon Beach.

But on many other matters, a weaselly twin emerges.

Dick Platkin, a former city planner, said he met with a Garcetti deputy several months ago to promote a legislative reform on mansionization that’s been languishing since last year. He said the deputy told him that Garcetti was aware of the situation and “feels very strongly about it.”

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Platkin says he never heard another word.

Garcetti was noncommittal on aligning national and local elections to improve turnout.

He steered clear of conversation around proposals to fix the sidewalks and streets of his city with a bond measure or a tax increase.

On the eve of a potentially explosive police commission decision on the controversial shooting of an unarmed man, he left town to raise money for his next campaign, and had trouble — before and after — telling the truth about the timing and purpose of the trip.

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This week, Garcetti came out rah-rah for hosting the 2024 Olympics, but now that it’s been pointed out that there are financial risks, he seems to be waffling.

And he had no response to questions about an alleged $12-million cellphone overbilling involving city employees, referring questions to the city attorney’s office.

That sidestep served to remind me of last week’s story by The Times’ Jack Dolan about the fact that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has done little to reform two nonprofit trusts that sucked up $40 million in ratepayer money.

This has been going on for two years, folks. Brian D’Arcy, the union chief whose henchmen co-operate the trusts with the DWP, refused to turn over records.

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Garcetti ordered up one of the audits that discovered millions of dollars were hosed away in uncompetitive bids, and revealed that trust employees threw money around like high rollers but didn’t file expense reports.

The latest is that after promising big changes in May, the DWP has barely begun draining the swamp. The general manager and commission president — hand-picked by Garcetti to clean things up over there — said hold on, everybody, it’s going to take time.

It could be another 60 days, said Board President Mel Levine.

Here’s what a strong mayor says:

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What’s the holdup, Mel?

General Manager Marcie Edwards said there’s an agreement to start taking competitive bids “above a certain monetary threshold,” but it’s not clear what the threshold will be or when it will happen.

Here’s what an engaged mayor says: Make the threshold 10 cents, and start today.

If I were mayor, I’d storm out of City Hall, march straight up the hill and push Levine and Edwards into the DWP’s sprawling fountain. If D’Arcy were there, he’d be the first one in the pool.

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Forget the Olympics. I’d be happy to join Garcetti pool-side with scoring cards to grade these belly floppers on their form. But I have a sneaking suspicion he’d be a no-show.

Twitter: @LATStevelopez

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