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Teacher strike behind him, Garcetti refocuses on a White House bid

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L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, center, speaks Tuesday after a contract agreement was reached between the L.A. teachers union and the school district. Behind him are union President Alex Caputo-Pearl, left, and L.A. Unified Supt. Austin Beutner.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Even as troubles in Los Angeles have muddied his case for a presidential campaign, Mayor Eric Garcetti made clear in Washington on Thursday that he is still very much preparing to launch one.

In a keynote address to a ballroom of colleagues at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Garcetti spoke like someone who was announcing a bid. The speech had every element of a campaign launch except the actual declaration.

“Stay tuned,” Garcetti told reporters afterward when asked about his plans.

The speech itself sought to turn the just-ended teachers’ strike, which set back Garcetti’s plans, into a political plus. The mayor framed the strike as an event that enabled him to show leadership and forge consensus among entrenched interests — in an arena where the mayor has little power.

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“I did what mayors do,” he said. “When we see a problem, we jump in, and we fix it. I was able to bring everybody together.”

The mayor used the strike negotiations as a jumping off point to lay out what is widely expected to be his campaign theme: Mayors like him live in the real world, where letting problems fester is not an option, he said. That makes mayors uniquely suited to put the federal government on the right track, he argued.

He tried to generate a similar political plus from another of the city’s long-standing policy failings — its scourge of homelessness, asserting he has tried to build consensus on possible solutions to the problem.

Whether either pitch could survive the intense scrutiny of a presidential campaign is hard to know. Garcetti’s optimistic vision would be contrasted against the chronic problems confronting the city’s schools and its homeless. In addition, an FBI probe into corruption at City Hall threatens to loom over a Garcetti campaign, although no indication has emerged that he’s a target of the investigation.

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Despite those problems, Garcetti presented himself as a politician undeterred.

“America right now is crying out for leadership, leadership I know exists in this room,” Garcetti told his fellow mayors. “We keep moving this country forward no matter what. The spirit of our cities is alive and well across America. The real America, I call it. … It is time to demand that Washington follow our lead rather than the other way around. It is time to flip Washington on its head.”

In an exchange with reporters that followed, Garcetti bristled at the suggestion he needs to bulk up his resume before he is ready to take on the job as commander-in-chief. If a reality television star can be given the job, he is surely qualified, he said.

“The time for trying new things — in both positive and sometimes negative ways — is upon us,” he added.

And then the mayor proceeded to introduce, against the advice of his staff, a new word into the political lexicon: Anxcitement. The wonkish mayor defined it as the combination of exciting opportunity and anxiety reflected in the current, fast-changing economic and innovation environment.

Garcetti indicated the term is unlikely to make its way onto lawn signs should he choose to mount a White House bid.

More stories from Evan Halper »


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