So Eric Garcetti isn’t running for president, but his two terms in office still warrant a more pressing question for Angelenos: whose mayor is this? During his six years in office, Eric Garcetti has been a faithful public servant to wealthy developers, Iowa Democrats, ICE brownshirts, James Corden, the International Olympic Committee, Hillary Clinton, and an amateur bone saw enthusiast, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. But ask the average Angeleno to name a signature Garcetti accomplishment from his two terms—or from his six years as City Council President—and they’d be hard-pressed to pick even a single aspect of civic life that the spineless dynastic politician has improved.
Our homelessness crisis continues to spiral. A UN report recently compared Skid Row’s conditions to a Syrian refugee camp, while those living in ramshackle tents have repeatedly complained that city sweeps have left them bereft of their already meager possessions. Despite the advocacy of several members of the City Council, Garcetti has resisted declaring L.A. a “sanctuary city,” fatuously claiming that he doesn’t even understand the meaning of the term. He’s stayed silent while immigrants in Lincoln Heights — attempting to drop off their children at school — have been thrown against their car, handcuffed and deported by ICE agents.
Traffic? It’s been named the world’s worst during each of Garcetti’s half-dozen years at the helm (according to INRIX). And even if that’s a concern often championed by right-wing NIMBY gadflies, it remains a maddening quality-of-life issue that affects nearly all working Angelenos. (The guy could at least go hard to add more left-turn arrows or something). Meanwhile, rent prices have increased exponentially and nearly every corner of the city has sprouted luxury condos that shoo long-time residents to the outskirts of the county. Oh, and that doesn’t even get into the FBI-led corruption probe that’s threatening to ensnare current and former members of the Garcetti administration, including his former deputy mayor for economic development.
It would stand to reason that a major city’s media-savvy mayor would at least feign grave concern. And yet ours has spent an ungodly portion of his time in office traveling away from Los Angeles, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in security costs paid by taxpayers, as he sustains his forever war for higher office––a war he’s eventually bound to lose. Until very recently, City Hall rumors alleged that his grand scheme was to run for president in order to build statewide name recognition, and then eventually swoop in to take Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat. Instead, he stoked a false “will he or won’t he” campaign to garner fawning GQ and Rolling Stone coverage before bowing out of a race that he had a 0.0 percent chance of winning. The soulless bet-hedging seemingly explains his reluctance to declare L.A. a “sanctuary city” — as part of a broader plot to win a jungle primary by convincing Bakersfield residents that he’s the “sane and centrist” Democrat.
Of course, being apoplectic at politicians angling for a promotion is like being angry at the sun. But that doesn’t mean that he has the right to hold L.A. hostage while chasing his dream of playing Beethoven on a special celebrity edition of America’s Got Talent. Neither a lack of concrete civic progress nor a failure to stick as a national political darling is surprising on its own, but even the most cynical and/or charmless politicians can usually trade one for the other. It’s like Garcetti’s getting ripped off by Faust. It would be tempting to call him the Drake of mayors––slick and empty, focus-grouped and too big to fail, desperate to be something to everyone––but at least Drake has convinced tens of millions of people that he’s Cool and Fun and Real. Garcetti struggles to convince Jimmy Fallon. Whether he’s truly, in the depths of his marrow, devoid of courage, substance, or the willingness to risk alienating anyone comes secondary to the fact that he’s failed to convincingly mime those things, in office or on basic cable. He’s the embodiment of neo-liberal vacancy: nominally progressive but always kowtowing to business, pro-immigrant in public but cozy with ICE. He is friends with Steve Aoki.
In November, Rolling Stone published an email that contained a campaign track called “Ready for Garcetti,” which features lyrics predominantly in Spanish. It tells the tale of an L.A. mayor who cares deeply about Latinx and immigrant groups; the press blast hails it as a “an urban latino beat song.” (It was completely scraped from the Internet following Garcetti’s Tuesday announcement that he’s not, in fact, ready for the presidency. Seriously, we looked for it.)
Garcetti was assuredly not programmed in a subterranean government research facility designed to create politicians whose chief erotic fantasy is playing themselves on TNT procedural dramas. No sir. Take the time that he said “fuck” at the Kings Stanley Cup victory celebration while totally normally sipping a Bud Light from what he definitely does not call “mouth holes,” and telling the crowd that the only rules in politics are “never be pictured with a drink in your hand, and never swear.” That’s like claiming you’re about to ditch school, but making sure you ask your parents first.
He reads as someone who has wanted to be president since the second grade, which is not a crime, but also does not confer on anyone the wisdom, vision or grit required to be an effective one. There’s a sense of entitlement that can only come from someone for whom politics is the family business. The winds of public opinion in Los Angeles are not hard to read, but he has told crowds of protestors aghast at the concentration camps massed at the U.S. border that we should let ICE “do its job.” Even though he gives droning speeches on homelessness, his political M.O. has been to cow to the interests of wealthy homeowners and developers. He’s a major cheerleader for gentrification-fueling real estate projects and has taken plenty of money from development moguls, telecom CEOs, Harvey Weinstein, oil lobbyists and Wal-Mart, which only pours fuel on to the fire that is burning down our affordable housing infrastructure.
His greatest success as mayor might be something that he would describe as a failure: his inability to woo Amazon’s HQ2, which would’ve decimated the creative class, public sector and the working poor, who would’ve been forced to move further and further into the distant suburbs (a phenomenon which, on top of being horrifying on the surface, creates even more traffic and pollution, becoming a public health hazard and decimating our quality of life). Garcetti claims Google’s takeover of the Westside Pavilion as a personal victory, while failing to offset it with the civic planning that would allow for regular working people to live side-by-side with the computers. He’s co-signed the Lyle Lanley gimmicks of Elon Musk with such credulousness that he probably will lavish him with tax breaks and insist that they do a duet of “The Monorail Song.”
When the Los Angeles Times was being plundered by out-of-town grifters actively destroying the city’s most vital news source, he didn’t say a word until after Patrick Soon-Shiong saved them in the 11th Hour. When a cabal of right-wing operatives destroyed the LA Weekly (RIP), Garcetti didn’t as much as yawn, unless he was yawning in Des Moines. As the Los Angeles Teachers Union went on strike, Garcetti failed to help avert it, perhaps because the superintendent of LAUSD is his ultra-rich, investment banker crony and former deputy mayor, Austin Beutner. To be fair, Garcetti offered to help mediate between the UTLA and LAUSD, but both sides declined — a sad commentary on his lack of engagement, credibility and negotiating power. (Once it became a national issue and obvious black mark on his presidential ambitions, he finally stepped into the fray in the full force-but-somehow-tepid Garcetti way.)
In his defense, there is hope for the city’s near future. Garcetti has three major accomplishments to his name: he raised the city’s minimum wage; he campaigned hard for Measure M, a sales tax increase which funds transportation projects including a rail line to LAX, a subway under Sepulveda, and money for sidewalk improvements and pothole repairs; and he helped pass Measure HHH, and the Bridge Home initiative, which should help those without housing and those struggling to stay afloat. But even in the face of a nominal success, Garcetti has somehow managed to flounder. Astronomical development costs have nearly halved the number of homeless and affordable housing units that HHH promised to build, shrinking the count from 10,000 to 6,000. And even though the money is there, he’s struggled to break ground on anything.
By allowing L.A.’s transportation, affordable housing and homelessness problems to spiral to catastrophic inflection points, he has failed the city. By failing to regularly be in Los Angeles, he has abdicated his duty to its citizens and deprived them of a potentially effective mayor who might have solved, or at least curbed these myriad crises.The sense of urgency is simply not there. Which is why it’s so astonishing that Garcetti would have the gall to tout himself as a “fix-it” mayor capable of mending America’s deep rifts and systemic inequalities, when he can’t even fix the problems in his backyard. Maybe now that he doesn’t want to be the president, he can start being the Mayor.