One day after securing the 2028 Olympics in Peru this month, Mayor Eric Garcetti greeted reporters on a noisy tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport.
It was an appropriate setting for Garcetti, whose travels have taken him to Atlanta, Phoenix, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas and Berlin, among other places, in the last year.
The mayor logged 112 days, or nearly one-third of his time, away from California over the last 12 months, according to his public calendar.
In August alone, he was out of state for 19 days, travels that included vacationing in the Berkshires, meeting with firefighter union leaders in Boston and hobnobbing with billionaire Ron Perelman in the Hamptons.
Prior to that, he wooed the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland, talked transportation with U.S. senators in Washington, D.C., and met with mayors in Mexico City to discuss climate change.
Reelected in March with 81% of the vote, Garcetti has refused to commit to serving his entire second term. As he visits New Hampshire and Wisconsin, the mayor remains coy about whether he’ll run for president in 2020.
But as he flirts with the idea, Garcetti tests the public’s willingness to tolerate his absences.
The mayor’s office releases details selectively about his time away from L.A., furthering his reputation for being vague about some of his travel.
“Times are good, so that makes it easier for him to slip out of town,” said Steve Erie, professor emeritus of political science at UC San Diego. “But there’s always a threshold. The criticism will be that he was elected to be mayor, not to run for president.”
Times are good, so that makes it easier for him to slip out of town. But ... the criticism will be that he was elected to be mayor, not to run for president.
Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar said the mayor’s travels over the last year landed the 2028 Olympics and Paralympics, and furthered Garcetti’s agenda on climate change, transportation, veteran homelessness and protecting immigrants.
His trade missions to Mexico and Asia in previous years brought deals with airline, transportation and development companies, Comisar said.
“Mayor Garcetti’s only job is serving the people of Los Angeles, and he is fully committed to that work every day,” Comisar said.
Garcetti ventured out of state far more in the last year than during his first year in office, when he spent 74 days outside California during the same time period.
The Los Angeles Times analyzed Garcetti’s daily schedule and campaign filings, and news reports for the last year, counting from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31, including weekends and holidays. The Times count included partial days out of state.
Over the course of the year, Garcetti was out of state for city-related events for at least 20 days and away for Olympics-related events for at least 13 days.
In a period that saw both a presidential election and his own reelection, Garcetti was away from California for political or campaign events for 17 days.
A significant portion of Garcetti’s out-of-state travel — 62 of the 112 days — was listed on his schedule as vacation or no reason was given, making it difficult to fully account for his year.
Garcetti political advisor Yusef Robb said there were no out-of-state trips for political or campaign events beyond the 17 days counted by The Times.
The mayor’s office declined to say how much vacation time Garcetti took. As an elected official, Garcetti isn’t limited to a set number of vacation days.
His calendar shows he was gone for about a week and a half in June, a trip that included both personal time and a stop at the four-day U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami. His office would not say what he was doing during the personal portion of the trip.
Garcetti also took a two-week break over the December holidays, and a weeklong vacation in April. He also was gone for two-week stretch in August, which included his vacation in the Berkshires, according to his office.
Comisar said that Garcetti values his time with his family and that he is “engaged and connected with his job 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter where he is.”
The mayor’s office declined to comment on whether Garcetti had a taxpayer-funded security detail during all of his out-of-state travels. The Los Angeles Police Department also declined to provide costs of the mayor’s security, including travel expenses.
Neighborhood leaders cited the mayor’s New Hampshire jaunt as they questioned his time away from Los Angeles.
Jay Handal, co-chairman of Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, said the number of homeless encampments in his Westside district have jumped in the last year. He wants the mayor to focus more intently on short-term solutions to get the homeless housed.
“If you want to go be president, governor, or senator, fix your local problems first,” Handal said.
Jonny Coleman, organizer of NOlympics, a group opposed to bringing the Games to Los Angeles, last month posted a mock “Missing” poster of the mayor on his Twitter account.
“I understand going to Sacramento to work on an affordable housing bond,” Coleman said. “But Wisconsin and New Hampshire? What’s he doing there?”
Garcetti himself has addressed the issue in some of his speeches as he positions himself as a party leader, rallying Democrats in Berlin, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and other places following President Trump’s election.
“I know what you’re all thinking, what is the mayor of Los Angeles doing here in the Badger State?” Garcetti told a group of Democrats in Wisconsin in June.
“The truth of the matter is that I am here because as mayor of Los Angeles, I know that what happens here in Wisconsin matters for my city and my people,” Garcetti said. “I know that when Republicans attack people here in Wisconsin, they attack working people everywhere in this country.”
Garcetti’s Wisconsin trip was paid for with his campaign funds, as is typical for political travel. City-related travel is usually paid for by taxpayers, a politician’s officeholder account or an outside group.
At times, the line between political and city work is blurred. In January, Garcetti attended President Obama’s going-away gala at the White House, with city funds paying for the mayor’s plane ticket, Garcetti spokesman George Kivork said.
Kivork said Garcetti was attending in his role as mayor and not in his individual capacity. Garcetti worked with the Obamas on “shared priorities” for Los Angeles, so the trip was a city expense, Kivork said.
But the trip was politically beneficial for Garcetti, who asked President Obama at the party to endorse him for another term, which the president later did.
As L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s national prominence grew, he was also criticized for spending too much time out of town. In 2012, angry city workers handed out postcards directed at the mayor that read, “Greetings from Los Angeles, wish you were here.”
L.A. lobbyist and public affairs consultant Harvey Englander said things have changed since Villaraigosa’s time in office, and in today’s internet age, “no one is really gone.”
“With social media and the ability to do remote broadcasts from your iPhone, most people won’t know if [Garcetti] is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or City Hall or Van Nuys,” Englander said, predicting little blowback if the mayor keeps traveling to presidential swing states.
Meanwhile, Garcetti’s reluctance to fully disclose his travels has backfired at times.
In 2015, he was criticized for not revealing the full details of a Washington, D.C., trip, which came as the city braced for a Police Commission decision in the controversial shooting death of 25-year-old Ezell Ford.
The mayor told activists he was meeting with White House officials, but didn’t mention he was having a fund-raiser for his reelection during the short trip.
An East Coast mayor can hop a train to D.C. and no one notices.
Ever since former Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty was dubbed “Traveling Sam” for globe-trotting on the taxpayers’ dime, there has been scrutiny over L.A. mayors’ travels, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.
California’s distance from major cities such as Washington, D.C., makes it harder for L.A. politicians to squeeze in a trip, Sonenshein said.
“An East Coast mayor can hop a train to D.C. and no one notices,” Sonenshein said.
Garcetti’s schedule isn’t slowing down, with the mayor planning to head to Las Vegas and Paris in October.
Advisor Robb said he didn’t know if Garcetti would visit more presidential swing states. “There’s no way to predict his future travel,” he said.