Many Californians may be happy to never set foot in Washington, with its humid weather, over-abundance of careerists and lack of decent produce, but one of the state’s biggest enthusiasts can’t stay away.
Mayor Eric Garcetti parachuted into town this week for the sixth time since he was sworn in just a year and a half ago, raising the question: What is Los Angeles getting out of it?
Trips to Washington 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.
Not everyone thinks that’s worth the time.
Count Gov. Jerry Brown among the doubters. Despite Washington’s 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.
Brown’s last 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 pointed to 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 already know him; some even worked for him earlier in their careers. Most know better than to expect his care and feeding. People who matter know him, and some are even close to him. Sen. Dianne Feinstein officiated at his wedding.
Garcetti, on the other hand, 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 this week on 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 that 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. Maybe a speakerphone would have worked. But relationships do matter. And with California’s congressional delegation so divided that it does not even meet regularly on goals for the state, as many other delegations do, the liberal Democratic mayor is building a notable alliance with California’s top Republican.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a GOP partisan who represents Bakersfield in Congress, seldom gets wooed by Democrats. But like Garcetti, he’s enamored of high tech and aerospace, he’s an outdoor enthusiast, and his rise in politics has been rapid.
The two worked together on creating 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 Games.
“He also wants to come and take a tour of the Los Angeles River,” Garcetti said of the long neglected waterway that the city wants $1 billion to restore. “He takes bike rides here. So maybe he can come take a bike ride along the Los Angeles River.”
And as Congress dithers on immigration reform, other California Democrats have soured on the prospect that McCarthy, 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.”
Where Washington meets California, I tweet. Follow me: @evanhalper