As Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti assembles his new administration, it is interesting, and encouraging, to note the odd confluence of circumstances that will leave him beholden less to factions or special interests and more to the people of Los Angeles.
Garcetti may be the most politically progressive mayor Los Angeles has seen in recent history. He has been a friend to organized labor, including the city’s public employee unions. But the biggest city unions, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the unions representing Department of Water and Power workers, firefighters and police officers all cast their lots with Controller Wendy Greuel, helping to raise and spend millions of dollars for her campaign and for independent campaigns backing her. Greuel came up short, and they came up short with her.
Money sometimes makes the difference, and in fact the independent expenditure groups led by labor were relatively successful at electing many of the candidates on their slate to the City Council. But it’s gratifying to see that big money doesn’t turn every election into a foregone conclusion, and that voters can do their own thinking.
In this year’s mayoral contest, in fact, the sheer amount of money injected into the race by labor may have backfired. Garcetti was able to use the public’s growing unhappiness with public employee unions — and especially Greuel’s close association with the DWP union — against her, giving him his margin of victory. That’s not new; despite all of labor’s campaign success, it has been split or on the losing side of most Los Angeles mayoral elections going back 20 years.
The lesson is not that labor should weaken its resolve to advocate for city workers. But workers, voters and elected officials ought to recognize and address the emotional distance that separates them and, in the interest of the city, ramp down the resentment. Los Angeles residents need city services and the competent, hardworking people who provide them. Those workers need to understand that at the core of their mission is the well-being — including the financial well-being — of their city.
And Mayor Garcetti, with both his progressive bent and his serendipitous independence, will need to call on every bit of that good fortune — and every ounce of skill and experience he picked up leading the City Council — to pilot Los Angeles past the threat of insolvency and toward recovery, fair and honest labor negotiations, creative risk-taking and silo-busting, and a prosperous future.