Editorial: Mayor Garcetti: Please stay and finish the job
Once again, speculation is swirling that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti may quit before the end of his term and take a job in the Biden administration. This time, Garcetti is said to be in line for an ambassadorship, possibly to India.
This is all conjecture, of course. Garcetti, an early supporter of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, was considered for federal appointments during the presidential transition but remained in L.A. He should stay now as well, and finish the job he set out to do when he was elected in 2013.
To be sure, it would be hard to say “no” if the president asked you to serve your country. India is a pivotal bulwark in an increasingly uncertain Asia as the United States tries to counter China’s rising hegemony. Being mayor of the second largest city in America is an incredibly difficult, demanding and often thankless job that brings relentless scrutiny and criticism. And Garcetti is nearing the end of a super-sized five-and-a-half-year term (because of a change in election dates), so he could make a plausible argument that he’s served his time.
Nevertheless, this is too important a moment for Los Angeles for the mayor to abandon his constituents.
Heading for greener pastures now would create a leadership vacuum in Los Angeles as it emerges from the pandemic. It would cause even more uncertainty and confusion as the city faces an order from U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to house or shelter all of skid row’s homeless residents in a matter of months. His exit would leave an open seat and a political free-for-all to fill it, which would put city governance in limbo until next year’s elections. There would be little progress on critical decisions that need to happen now, not the end of 2022, when a new mayor is sworn in.
Moreover, if Garcetti departed now, he’d leave behind a legacy of unfinished business and unfulfilled potential.
Time and again, we’ve argued that when Garcetti chooses to lead and to take risks, he can be remarkably effective. After years of inaction on earthquake safety, Garcetti pushed the City Council to pass a law requiring seismic retrofits in thousands of vulnerable buildings. It was hugely controversial at the time but will ultimately make Los Angeles a safer city. Likewise, he was the architect of and unrelenting advocate for Measure M, the countywide sales tax increase that will double the size of the region’s mass transit system over the coming decades.
Garcetti at his best is eloquent and persuasive. He has a good vision for a more livable, transit-oriented, environmentally and technologically friendly city. He has ideas and plans to help solve the city’s problems. But often he has fallen short in carrying out his proposals and visions. On too many occasions he has ducked controverial decisions, like the recent move to clear tent encampments at Echo Park Lake, and failed to fight for his own initiatives.
There’s still time for Garcetti to make progress, if he sticks around. He could throw political caution to the wind and be relentless in carrying out his policy agenda. He should seize the opportunity opened by the health, economic and racial justice crises to deepen and burnish his legacy.
L.A. was hit hard by COVID-19. Both the virus and the economic fallout exposed deep inequity and injustice in the city. Flush with $1.3 billion in federal pandemic aid, the city has to decide how to spend those one-time dollars to the greatest effect. What will it take to help low-income communities of color not only recover from the pandemic but thrive? Or to help small business, tourism and employment bounce back? How can the city manage to prevent a wave of tenant evictions once the eviction moratoriums expire?
Garcetti has proposed a “justice budget” that dedicates a chunk of the federal aid to anti-poverty and police-reform pilot projects. Those are worthy efforts to start. But Garcetti surely knows the real challenge is ahead, by showing what works and what doesn’t, and then finding the money to pay for new services.
Los Angeles is having a contentious but much-needed debate over the future of policing just as violent crime is on the rise. Like most city leaders, Garcetti supported expanding the LAPD, along with increasing officer pay and benefits. But after the killing of George Floyd and amid calls for defunding police, he offered up a steep cut in the police budget. In this year’s budget he’s proposed funding crisis counselors, mental health experts and other non-law enforcement teams to respond to 911 calls about nonviolent episodes.
L.A. needs both policing reform and improved public safety. Achieving the right policy balance will be challenging, but Garcetti is nearly eight years into it. Leaving his post now would force a temporary mayor, or a permanent successor, to remake a public safety and policing strategy from scratch.
As for homelessness, no mayor alone can eradicate the problem in a year and a half. Nevertheless, Garcetti could make major progress during that time if he would be more forceful and enterprising and less politic.
There’s a growing push for the city to start pouring money into shelters and temporary housing in order to clear tent encampments faster. Garcetti should stay the course by advocating for and building permanent housing, which needs to happen far more quickly. He should be directly involved in removing political and bureaucratic roadblocks that are stalling projects. He should push for investment in community land trusts that will assure a longtime supply of affordable housing. He should try to wrangle as much state money as possible to buy hotels and motels and convert them into housing for homeless people.
Garcetti can’t allow the city to indulge NIMBYs — or their representatives — who want to block homeless housing and services for bogus reasons. Homelessness policy must not be driven by 15 City Council district fiefdoms. The mayor should take the lead in setting and carrying out a humane, responsive citywide strategy. If he leaves now, what progress has been made could fall apart.
A former Rhodes scholar and naval reservist who embodies the multicultural nature of California, Garcetti could be a good ambassador. He’s polished, eloquent and a natural diplomat. The prospect of grappling with issues of global importance might seem irresistible to someone who’s spent the last 20 years fielding complaints about potholes, permits and trash pickups. But Garcetti is so close to the finish line in L.A. He shouldn’t quit now.
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