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The Guardian

The LA mayor’s ‘jinx:’ Garcetti could leave for India as city faces host of challenges

Eric Garcetti, who may join the Biden administration, would leave behind a thorny legacy in the megacity Eric Garcetti speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP The question has loomed over Los Angeles politics for years: when will the mayor resign? Pundits have long predicted that Eric Garcetti, the mayor with clear ambitions for higher office, would not finish out his second term. Now, it seems likely that the Democrat running the second largest city in the US will be stepping down more than a year early – with widespread reports that Joe Biden has selected him as his ambassador to India. If confirmed, Garcetti, 50, will be leaving behind a thorny legacy in a megacity facing a confluence of challenges: a warming climate, congestion and air pollution, a housing crisis, gentrification battles and some of the worst economic inequality in America. LA is facing some serious problems, and I think he understands that this isn’t a record that he is going to want for the rest of his career Jessica Levinson While he has enacted major policies on climate and transit, he could be departing amid a sexual harassment case in his office and at a time when his popularity in the heavily Democratic city has slipped. Garcetti has increasingly become a target of progressive groups over his policies on policing, homelessness, and other racial justice issues. “LA is facing some serious problems, and I think he understands that this isn’t a record that he is going to want for the rest of his career,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola law professor. “It is hard to run for higher office when your most recent resume line is mayor of LA. He’s made the calculation that … he has to enter the national or international stage before he comes back home to try [to] move up the political ladder.” Garcetti, the son of a former LA district attorney, served as a city councilman before being elected mayor in 2013 on a “back to basics” platform of increasing jobs and fixing city streets. He had initially considered a 2020 White House run and later joined the Biden campaign as a co-chair. When it was rumored last year that he was under consideration for a cabinet position (possibly transportation or housing secretary), Black Lives Matter LA and other activist groups began holding loud, daily protests outside Getty House, the mayor’s residence, urging Biden not to pick a “self-seeking mayor for a cabinet position in which he is completely unqualified”. Protesters meet outside Eric Garcetti’s home to protest his proposed funding of the Los Angeles police department. Photograph: Stanton Sharpe/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock The mayor announced he would not be taking a secretary job in December, citing the city’s rapidly worsening Covid catastrophe. Garcetti, the youngest mayor in LA in more than a century, would likely defend his record by pointing to his leadership during Covid, his efforts to stabilize the economy, his bid to bring the Olympics to LA in 2028, and his green jobs plan, said Levinson. It remains to be seen how the Olympics will impact the city, with opponents arguing that the games would accelerate displacement, gentrification and inequality. The LA Times editorial board recently urged Garcetti to stay, praising his “vision for a more livable, transit-oriented, environmentally and technologically friendly city” and his success at passing a new earthquake safety law. Carlo De La Cruz, California deputy for the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign, praised the mayor’s goals of 100% clean energy by 2045 and committing to an entirely electric fleet for garbage trucks: “It’s an achievement that I think people will remember as a critical shift … that will create ripple effects for the west coast and hopefully the nation.” The mayor succeeded in pushing a key transportation funding measure in 2016 and set commendable goals for improved mobility and safer streets, said Juan Matute, the deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies. But the execution of his plans has been slow and haphazard, he said. “There was a lot of promise for changing mobility in southern California that came through in plans … but they’ve fallen short of implementation,” according to Matute. It’s his legacy on homelessness, however, that could haunt him for years, contributing to what some commentators have called the “jinx” of the LA mayor job, which has not generally led to higher office, observers say. “We are seeing homeless encampments increasing everywhere,” said Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie, a pastor at Skid Row, the epicenter of the crisis. “His legacy with us is a total failure. The issue of housing is not taken seriously in this city, because this city has never taken Black people seriously … and Garcetti is more concerned with getting people off the street and out of sight than getting people housed.” There are more than 41,000 homeless people in the city, according to last year’s count, and more than a thousand unhoused people die on the street each year in LA county. The pastor said Garcetti had been too focused on forcing people into shelters and relying on law enforcement instead of providing long-term housing solutions. He pointed to the 2015 LAPD fatal shooting of an unhoused Skid Row resident, Charly Africa Keunang, amid a Safer Cities initiative, which funded officer patrols in the neighborhood. Most recently, city leaders faced intense scrutiny for the eviction of a homeless community from a popular park, aided by police. Tents lined up on 4th Street on Skid Row, downtown Los Angeles. Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock Garcetti has recently touted his proposed $1bn budget for homelessness, which would go to new housing projects, homelessness prevention and eviction defense programs and the expansion of services and cleanup teams. He also made national headlines with his announcement of a basic income program that could be the largest in the nation. But racial justice groups have been pressing the mayor to redirect funds away from LAPD and into services and programs, and while there has been some reallocation, Garcetti, in what could be his final days, has pushed a police budget increase. Garcetti was co-opting BLM’s words by calling his proposal a “justice budget” and claiming to “reimagine” public safety while expanding police funds, said Dr Melina Abdullah, the BLMLA co-founder: “He appropriates our language and then does the exact opposite … This is really a rightwing strategy. It’s like advancing corporate interests and allowing them to pollute the environment, and then calling it the ‘clean skies act’.” The mayor’s office has pointed to ongoing efforts to send mental health specialists to certain 911 calls. But for his harshest critics, an early exit before his term ends in 2022 would serve as confirmation that he was not dedicated to the hard work of running a city struggling with a major humanitarian crisis. He would be the first LA mayor to step down mid-term since 1916 when the mayor resigned due to a cheating scandal, according to the LA Times. Garcetti is also leaving during an ongoing lawsuit alleging that the mayor ignored or laughed off sexual harassment by his former top aide. Attorneys for the plaintiff, who have deposed the mayor’s wife, have raised concerns that she and the mayor could be in another country and “out of this court’s subpoena power” before a scheduled deposition in July. The LA Times reported that the city’s attorneys have responded that she would be available. “It is the perfect end note for a legacy of really ineffectual leadership that at its best was just self-serving, but at its worst was very deadly,” said Ina Morton, an organizer with the activist group, People’s City Council LA. “It’s not surprising. He has this reputation of being a mayor who likes to show up for a photoshoot … who is not really concerned with making the political sacrifices that are necessary to lead a city and help people.” A spokesperson for the mayor did not respond to an inquiry.