You name it, Eric Garcetti has done it
In exactly one week, Los Angeles will wake up with a newly elected mayor.
The lucky leader of 4 million restless campers with cracked sidewalks could be Wendy Greuel, the business-suited Valley kid who worked for Mayor Tom Bradley and President Clinton and would be the first female mayor in city history.
Or it could be Eric Garcetti, who seems to have done everything in his 42 years except pitch for the Dodgers and kayak to Borneo, and whose adopted daughter may one day celebrate both a bat mitzvah and a quinceañera.
Last week, I wrote about a Greuel visit to Tolliver’s barbershop in South Los Angeles, where she was relaxed and sharp in front of a crowd that thinks she’s the one. Today I’ll report on my outing with her opponent, who, like Greuel, helped create some of the city’s problems but now promises to deliver peace and prosperity to one and all.
When Garcetti walked into a Westwood Village pizza parlor late Monday night, he was not recognized until after he’d selected artichokes, olives, onions and peppers as toppings. At the end of the assembly line, past the 800-degree oven where your custom pizza cooks in exactly the time it takes to air a blistering TV attack ad, a star-struck young employee looked up and said.
Trevor Davis is a grad student who wants to one day use theater arts for education and therapy, and it wasn’t hard for Garcetti, a sometimes actor, composer and jazz pianist, to establish a kinship with this young chap.
But then Garcetti has something in common with roughly 85% of the world’s population. You name it, he’s done it.
He’s George Plimpton, Bono and “Seinfeld’s” Mr. Peterman all rolled into one. When he says: “And then there was the time I commandeered a snowmobile at the North Pole while on a climate-change fact-finding mission and located Salma Hayek’s lost purse in the frozen tundra,” he’s not kidding.
He actually did that.
And Hayek said he’s a great dancer.
I have to admit that as someone who, as a young man, did little more than cover the football team for my college newspaper and perfect the precise chemistry of the Harvey Wallbanger, Garcetti’s high school, college and post-grad experiences are somewhat humbling.
He was a cheerleader, led his Columbia U. literary society, headed a discussion group on gender and sexuality and served the homeless while composing musicals. He went on to conduct research or serve humanitarian causes in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Burma, worked for Amnesty International and became a university instructor. And did I mention that he speaks fluent Spanish and currently serves as a Naval Reserve officer?
Cara Robin, a Westside supporter, told me her neighbor had once tried to get Garcetti to attend an Ethiopian festival. Robin asked why, and the neighbor said: “He speaks Ethiopian.”
A bit of an exaggeration, Garcetti told me.
At one recent debate, a student identified himself as a member of Junior State, and Garcetti noted he was a past president. No one would be shocked if, in response to a question about aerospace, Garcetti revealed that he’s a former astronaut who planted an organic garden on the moon.
At the pizza parlor Monday night, late-dining students didn’t seem to know that Garcetti’s resume was longer than “A Farewell to Arms.” But once he was spotted by Trevor Davis, a buzz started and his 800-degree pizza sat on the table getting cold while students squeezed in to say hello and take pictures.
Student Vincent Ho told me he thinks that if Garcetti is mayor, he’ll have a better chance of getting a job. The Daily Bruin endorsed Garcetti for his “thorough plans for the city and students,” mentioning his proposal to facilitate tech start-up companies that hire college grads.
Nearby, four foreign students sat at a table, one from Switzerland, one from France, one from Dubai and one from England.
“He’s lived in London,” said the Brit (Garcetti was a Rhodes scholar and student at the London School of Economics). The English lad commented that Garcetti had something specific to say about the hometowns of three of the four foreign students.
“They’re dead to me,” Garcetti quipped, noting that they can’t vote for him.
When he finally sat down, I asked Garcetti an impolite question. Has he just been padding the resume all these years, knowing since kindergarten that he wanted to one day climb the ladder in politics?
“Anybody who knows me well knows I don’t plan my life based on how it’s going to look externally,” Garcetti said after a few bites of pizza, adding that composing musicals is not the surest path to political success. “I’ve been passionate about the world and new experiences, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to see a lot of it.”
All of that, Garcetti argued, has helped prepare him to run a place like L.A., a Pacific Rim power that underutilizes its natural ties to the rest of the world. We’re wasting trade and investment opportunities, he said, that could benefit people in every neighborhood of the city.
Saying that in a campaign is easier than delivering once in office, but sure, it’d be swell to have a mayor who can both trim the trees and see new horizons through the clearing. But as with Greuel, you have to wonder: Why didn’t he do more of that kind of thing during his many years on the City Council?
Garcetti told me that Lewis MacAdams, co-founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River, encouraged him to “talk more about your cultural fluency, because it’s the most important thing you can have in this city.”
Ted Bardacke of Global Green USA told me Garcetti doesn’t just blow hot air when he talks about the environment or L.A.'s place in the world.
“There’s real work behind it,” Bardacke said. “I think it would be really great to have a mayor with that kind of world view. I often feel that Los Angeles punches below its weight, and the mayor’s office is a place where we can punch much harder.”
And if I’d asked him at dinner, who knows?
Garcetti may have been a boxer once.
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