Biden nominates LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for India ambassador

President Joe Biden on Friday, July 9, announced Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as his pick for ambassador to India, confirming rumors that have been circulating for weeks that the two-term mayor was poised to depart before the end of a tenure pockmarked by a pandemic and an epic homeless crisis, even as the city saw its transit network expand and the winning of the Olympic Games’ return.

Garcetti, 50, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, would be moving from one tough job to another — he’d be dispatched as the U.S.’s chief diplomat to a nation of nearly 1.4 billion people during a time when it’s been swamped by a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.

“I love Los Angeles and will always be an Angeleno,” Garcetti said in a statement. “I want you to know that every day I am your Mayor, I will continue to lead this city like it is my first day on the job, with passion, focus, and determination. I have committed my life to service –– as an activist, as a teacher, as a naval officer, as a public servant, and if confirmed, next as an ambassador.”

And even as congratulations poured in for Garcetti, he faced harsh criticism from Angelenos over his handling of the spiraling crisis of homelessness and housing affordability, as well as troubling allegations aimed at members of his staff at City Hall.

Garcetti, who has reached his term limit after two terms and cannot seek another four years as mayor, is scheduled to leave office in December 2022, but would vacate the position early if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. That process, however, could take weeks, even months, to play out, even as the L.A. race to succeed him has already kicked into gear.

A San Fernando Valley native — son of Sukey and Gil Garcetti, the former L.A. County District Attorney — who ascended to the City Council, Garcetti became a national figure who even flirted with a presidential run. As mayor, he compiled a legacy filled with successes and failures and he would be departing a city with significant challenges on the horizon.

With an affable demeanor  — at times slammed as too nice, too vanilla and too conflict-averse, with a kind of “cool” vibe — the former Rhodes Scholar has been credited with continuing a transit buildup in a city choked with traffic, establishing tougher earthquake safety standards and steering the city though the deadly pandemic as it became a hotspot for infections.

“I don’t believe there would would have been a Measure M without Eric,” said L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, referring to the voter-approved transit tax measure that aims to raise $120 billion over 40 years to revamp and expand rail, rapid bus, and bike networks across the region with a goal of easing congestion. “His leadership has been very clear and visionary in many ways.”

The White House’s announcement Friday cited Garcetti’s responsibilities overseeing the Western Hemisphere’s busiest container port, the Port of Los Angeles; the largest municipal utility in the country, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; one of the busiest airports, Los Angeles International Airport; and his time as chair of the second-busiest transit agency, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The White House also credited him with leading the city’s successful bid to host the 2028 Olympics and co-founding Climate Mayors, a coalition of 400 U.S. mayors that adopted the Paris Climate agreement.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Garcetti “is an excellent choice to serve as U.S. ambassador to India. The importance of India to the global economy and national security will only continue to grow over the coming years, and having a steady hand to guide our relationship with that nation is vital.”

“Mayor Garcetti has been a transformative and consistent leader, not only in his time as council president but as mayor,” Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez said in a statement. “From Vice President (Kamala) Harris to (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Xavier) Becerra and others, California, and especially Los Angeles, is continuing to lead our nation and now represent us around the globe.”

“Mayor Garcetti has served the City of Los Angeles for more than two decades, eight of those as Mayor. From raising the minimum wage to managing the COVID-19 crisis, I have always been grateful for our partnership and I have no doubt he’ll do amazing things in this new role,” said City Council President Nury Martinez . “The city is designed to adapt and sustain change and we will press on, laser focused on delivering on our promise to rebuild a more resilient Los Angeles.”

Homelessness, Garcetti’s ‘unfinished business’

But Garcetti found himself often overwhelmed by a deepening homelessness crisis that became a spectacle that made headlines nationwide and sparked the ridicule of then-President Donald Trump. The problem, exacerbated by more than a year of deadly pandemic, endures despite a mammoth surge in spending to tackle the problem. And the issue appears to be emerging as the focal point of the next mayoral election.

“His term will really be judged on homelessness, homelessness, and homelessness,” said Jessica A. Levinson, director of Loyola Law School’s Public Service Institute, adding that the tenure of the next mayor will also likely be viewed through that lens.

“I think rightly or wrongly, Garcetti is going to be judged based on how homelessness was handled in the city and clearly there’s a long way to go,” said Valley Industry Commerce Association President Stuart Waldman. “He worked very hard pushing for measure H and measure HHH, but the money just hasn’t been spent yet. There’s a lot more work and I think this is gonna be one of those things that you find people feel it’s unfinished business.”

Indeed, even as Garcetti prepares for his confirmation process, an unorthodox lawsuit rages on against the city and county by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, an association of downtown residents, homeless individuals and property owners seeking to compel local governments to find shelter for the thousands of people camping on city sidewalks. The city and county are seeking to vacate a judge’s order requiring officials to offer shelter to every homeless person on Skid Row by Oct. 18.

Some L.A. residents have grown less enamored with him amid such issues of renter protections against evictions, LAPD spending and police shootings and management of street protests. On the other side of the political spectrum, some industry leaders were deeply critical of his handling of business restrictions during the pandemic and his support of boosting the minimum wage.

Garcetti is leaving behind a legacy of leadership over a city in which homelessness has “exploded” and the police department’s actions are defended, despite calls for less spending on police services and complaints about increasing police shootings, said Albert Corado, a member of the People’s City Council and a candidate in the 13th council district.

The mayor has “fumbled the ball” from the start of the pandemic, he said, with worries over evictions and housing issues prompting a group of activists to form the People’s City Council at that time.

They were disappointed with the lack of urgency and what they saw as half-measures by city leaders and Garcetti to address an expected onslaught of evictions and growing homelessness.

At that point, the mayor could have “stepped up to the plate,” but “what you got was a lottery … or like 20 bucks off of your parking ticket.”

“When COVID was becoming an issue … I think (Garcetti) could have worked with the City Council in tandem to try to come up with something that was actually beneficial to people who are renters or people who are going to be out of a job,” he said.

“I think the moment (Garcetti) leaves, we’re gonna have to look back at what exactly we’ve all been through as residents here, and how our rents have gone up, and people are becoming homeless,” he said. “More people are struggling to even just make rent or find a job. It’s a city in crisis that increasingly is going to be harder for normal people to live in.”

Still, leadership amid the tumult over housing and homeless in a city of 4 million may be just the kind of experience that an ambassador would need to have in dealing with a nation as giant as India, Kuehl said.

While the scale of India’s social ills is much larger, Garcetti’s experience running a big city can only help, she added.

“I think he will be much more understanding of what it takes to actually roll out a program and actually make a dent in a problem,” she said.

Garcetti also faced criticism in the wake of the historic social justice movements fueled by the murder of George Floyd and the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020.

Melina Abdullah, a college professor and a prominent leader with the L.A.-area Black Lives Matter movement, said Garcetti “leaving Los Angeles is a win for Los Angeles, Black Los Angeles in particular.”

“There’s kind of a sentiment of good riddance around it,” she said. She pointed to the mayor increasing the police budget and supporting “two of the most problematic police chiefs in Los Angeles history, Charlie Beck and now Michel Moore.”

Meanwhile, during last summer’s nationwide unrest over police brutality, Garcetti was “uttering names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as if Black folks aren’t killed here and people are killed here in a higher number than other locales,” she said.

Troubling staff allegations

Recently, Garcetti has played defense on a number of allegations aimed at his administration.

A lawsuit alleges that a former top staffer sexually harassed one of the mayor’s police bodyguards while Garcetti ignored it or laughed it off. The mayor denies the claims. One of his former deputy mayors was also indicted on corruption charges in an ongoing federal investigation at City Hall.

Last month, Garcetti asked his chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, to step away from her management duties in response to revelations by the Los Angeles Times that she posted disparaging remarks in a private Facebook group about labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. The Times also reported that Guerrero posted suggested comments about Director of Planning Vince Bertoni, who was hired by Garcetti in 2016.

The pandemic has left the city’s economy shaken. The city balanced its budget with help with a massive influx of federal and state relief dollars and restaurants and other businesses have mostly shed coronavirus restrictions and reopened. But fears over the employment picture, a potential wave of evictions and myriad other issues make a full recovery far from certain.

And as is the case in many large cities, the crime rate in the City of the Angels is spiking. This year, the numbers of homicides and shootings reported in the city are trending ahead of 2019 and 2020.

The politics of the pick

Garcetti, who considered a 2020 White House bid and later became part of Biden’s inner circle, emerged as a widely discussed possibility to join Biden’s Cabinet last year. But he took himself out of the running, saying the raging coronavirus crisis made it impossible for him to step away.

Garcetti told KNX that having Biden ask him to consider a role as ambassador to India was “unexpected,” adding that “Los Angeles can’t reach its goals if the world doesn’t reach theirs, and vice versa.”

In picking Garcetti, Biden is rewarding a loyalist who was one of his national campaign co-chairs, who served on the committee that vetted his pool of vice presidential contenders and who served as one of several co-chairs for Biden’s inaugural committee.

VICA’s Waldman said he was not surprised when he heard about Garcetti’s nomination because “he worked very hard to elect Joe Biden. He’s a confident elected official and Joe Biden likes it. I think you can say the same with Kamala Harris. He liked Kamala Harris and he nominated her, so he moved forward with Garcetti.

Garcetti was an early supporter and national co-chair of Biden’s presidential campaign. After Biden was elected president last fall, his name was frequently brought up as a potential candidate for a White House appointment.

The Los Angeles mayor was previously thought to have been in the running for a cabinet seat, potentially as transportation secretary. However, that possibility prompted the local chapter of Black Lives Matter and other organizations unsatisfied with Garcetti’s performance in Los Angeles to hold daily protests outside the mayor’s home in Windsor Hills urging Biden not to pick Garcetti for that role.

After Peter Buttigieg, the mayor of another city who had also run for president, was picked as Transportation Secretary last December, Garcetti said he had told the Biden administration he was opting to stay in Los Angeles.

For days last year, Black Lives Matter-LA protested outside Getty House, Garcetti’s official residence, seeking to persuade  Biden not to put the mayor in his cabinet. It’s unclear if that figured in the decision.

A year before that, Garcetti had entertained the possibility of entering last year’s presidential race, but then opted out of that as well.

Levinson suggested that Biden likely does not think this particular pick will lead to a big fight in Congress.

Of course, there might be other battles — perhaps at some point after serving out his role as ambassador. Levinson opines that Garcetti may return to politics.

“I think he’d love the ‘top’ job,” Levinson said — or perhaps a higher level cabinet post or a run at statewide or nationwide office.

“If the time is right,” she said.

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.