Many Californians may be happy never to set foot in Washington, with its humid weather and lack of fresh produce. But one of the state’s most high-profile residents can’t seem to stay away.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti parachuted into town this week for the sixth time since he was sworn in a year and a half ago, raising the question: What is Los Angeles getting out of it?
Trips to the nation’s capital by big-city mayors and state governors follow a well-established routine — swoop into town; jump from office to office; genuflect to secretaries, senators and staff members; rush to the White House for a photo op; then deliver a speech to one think tank or another.
But Garcetti is a fresh face — a wonky newcomer to the national political playing field. That could make showing up more important.
“You are always criticized for traveling, whether it is abroad or in Washington,” the mayor said during his most recent visit. “But the importance of being regularly part of the conversation and on people’s lips is why we are here. It is paying off.”
Garcetti has indeed fetched Los Angeles more than its share of White House attention of late. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is scheduled to travel to Los Angeles soon, his third visit in a year, to announce yet another massive infusion of money for the subway system.
Garcetti said he doubted Los Angeles would be getting as big a share of federal cash if he were not back East working the hallways.
“I have got to be there to get those dollars,” he said in an interview at the stately Hay-Adams hotel, across the street from the White House. “We have had billions that might otherwise be left on the table.”
Whether that’s true is hard to know.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, his fellow Democrat, is among those who doubt the value of Washington visits.
Despite federal influence in drought relief, high-speed rail, healthcare and just about every other major issue on Brown’s agenda, he has been to Washington exactly zero times this year.
The governor’s most recent visit was last October. And it was brief.
“California’s influence in Washington, D.C., is not dependent on any one visit,” Brown spokesman Jim Evans wrote in an email. In the governor’s case, the phone works just fine for maintaining a strong relationship with the administration and members of Congress, he said.
Evans cited regular conference calls with senior officials and the special attention the president has paid to California’s drought emergency.
Brown, of course, has been around national politics so long that plenty of senior Washington officials know him. Some even worked for him earlier in their careers. And most know better than to expect his care and feeding.
But relationships do matter. And Garcetti, a liberal Democrat, has been building a notable alliance with California’s top Republican in Washington.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, like Garcetti, is enamored of high tech and aerospace. He’s an outdoor enthusiast and his rise in politics has been rapid.
The two worked together to create a high-tech aerospace manufacturing zone in Southern California, positioning local companies to compete for $1.3 billion in federal grants. Garcetti has promised to visit Bakersfield and hopes to lure McCarthy to Los Angeles for a dinner with Olympics officials — at which the city will begin to make its case to host the 2024 Summer Games.
“He also wants to come and take a tour of the Los Angeles River,” Garcetti said. City officials are hoping for as much as $1 billion from the federal government to help restore the long-neglected waterway. McCarthy “takes bike rides here. So maybe he can come take a bike ride along the Los Angeles River,” the mayor said.
With Congress stalled on immigration reform, some California Democrats have soured on the prospect that the majority leader, who represents a heavily Latino district, would broker a deal. But Garcetti still sees possibilities.
“We have had conversations about immigration reform,” the mayor said. “He continues to state he is for it. I am hopeful he can be that voice to bring about a vote at the right time.”