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L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti introduces himself to nation at DNC: 'I'm just your average Mexican American Jewish Italian'

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti introduces himself to nation at DNC: 'I'm just your average Mexican American Jewish Italian'
Eric Garcetti at the Democratic National Convention. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti held up his city as a model of progressive policy-making at the Democratic National Convention Thursday in a speech that was as much a forthright self-introduction to a national audience as it was an argument on behalf of his party's presidential nominee.

Consigned to an unglamorous, early-evening speaking slot just before a performance from singer-songwriter Carole King, Garcetti used his five minutes on stage to speak at length about his family history, describing his Italian-Mexican grandfather's journey across the U.S. border as an infant and the persecution faced by his maternal ancestors, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia.

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"I'm just your average Mexican-American Jewish Italian," Garcetti said. A Rhodes scholar who speaks fluent Spanish, he liberally sprinkled his address with Spanish phrases.

Garcetti advocated briefly for Hillary Clinton, saying the Democratic presidential nominee would direct federal resources to American cities and make "the biggest investment in infrastructure since World War II."

He also drew applause with some trenchant attacks on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

"America doesn't need a political pyromaniac for president," Garcetti said. "His voice is loud, his language is coarse, and his politics has a darkness that would not only stop but reverse the march of progress."

Much of his speech, however, was given over to detailing his life story and mayoral record to Democratic delegates and television viewers across the country.

Unlike big-city mayors such as Bill de Blasio, Rahm Emanuel or his own predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, Garcetti lacks a national profile, though he is frequently mentioned among California politics-watchers as a potential contender for statewide office.

In his speech, Garcetti appeared to be making overtures to voters beyond his state's boundaries, mentioning his wife's roots in the Midwest and the time he spent in the South training as a Navy Reservist.

He described several initiatives that have taken place in Los Angeles under his administration, including the city's move last year to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The $15 minimum wage — which  has also been passed by California and New York states, as well as a number of other large cities across the country — has become a rallying cry for Democrats and was incorporated this year into the party's platform.

In an email Thursday to supporters of his 2017 reelection effort, Garcetti said he would "share the story of Los Angeles as a model for the country," a theme he echoed in an interview with The Times before his address.

"If we can do it in L.A., I want to say, we can do it across this country," Garcetti said. "In many ways, the West Coast is leading, and hopefully inspiring the nation to do the same."

Like California as a whole, Los Angeles has seen a steady drop in unemployment over the last several years. Famous for choking traffic congestion, the city is also in the midst of a historic expansion of its public-transportation infrastructure. Garcetti and other local elected officials are campaigning for a tax measure that would continue to fund the buildout of the city's rail and bus system begun under Villaraigosa.

Yet in other areas the city is struggling, and sometimes losing ground, against intractable urban problems. Just last week — as Trump was warning at his party's convention of rising violence on America's streets — the  Los Angeles Police Department announced that overall crime was up for the second straight year after decades of decline.

The city's homeless population has also increased since Garcetti took office in 2013, and now stands at more than 26,000. That figure includes the nation's largest population of homeless people who sleep on the streets without access to even temporary shelter.

In his speech, Garcetti warned that a Trump presidency would not benefit cities as they sought to deal with such issues.

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"America's cities don't have time for theatrics," he said. "America's cities have problems to solve."

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UPDATES:

6:55 p.m.: This story was updated throughout with additional detail and background.

This story was originally published at 6:05 p.m.

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