Mayor Garcetti May be the Next … Antonio Villaraigosa

@ THE GUSS REPORT-The primary qualifications for electoral longevity in the City of Los Angeles are identity politics and incumbency. Not crime fighting, traffic reduction, budget surpluses, better sidewalks or killing of fewer shelter animals, none of which have been achieved or improved upon by Mayor Eric Garcetti. He failed to permanently return the LA Rams to their 20th Century turf, or build Farmer’s Field, the never-to-be-built stadium where said turf was supposed to lay. He probably will not bring home the 2024 Olympics, either. 

And Garcetti evaded debates prior to last week’s city primary as though they were the inside doorknob of a public bathroom. 

How the heck former Mayor James Hahn lost his 2005 re-election bid to Antonio Villaraigosa is anyone’s guess, though it suggests that only identity politics can beat incumbency. Or Latino identity politics trumped Hahn’s familial identity politics.

But the point is this: In Los Angeles, just being there at the public trough is a reliable path to victory … when running for re-election. Why accomplish good things for the people when it doesn’t matter on Election Days? 

Of all the incumbents at 200 N. Spring Street in the era of LA term limits – ironically, expanded term limits -- nobody behaves more incumbently (yes, that’s an adverb) than Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

At 46 years old, Garcetti has spent 61% of his adult life as an elected city official, and nearly 40% of it as either City Council President or Mayor. Those percentages will grow – slightly – depending on what sliver of his second term he actually serves before unwisely seeking higher office. 

Unwisely, because Garcetti has so little to show for his time in office, he is regularly mocked on KFI-AM 640’s “The John and Ken Show” as “Mayor Yoga Pants,” in part for infamously saying that society owes a debt of thanks to parolees for serving their time. 

The statistics bear out Garcetti’s uninspiring tenure. 

Of the 2,031,733 registered voters in the city for last week’s primary, Garcetti, despite an intoxicating level of name recognition (his familial legacy includes his father Gil being the District Attorney on the losing side of the O.J. Simpson murder case,) convinced only 202,278 of us, less than 10 percent of all registered voters, to vote for him. And he did it against a field of candidates who can charitably be described as very unknown. 

How will Garcetti inspire the 90% of registered LA voters who didn’t vote for him to suddenly support him when he runs to replace Jerry Brown or Dianne Feinstein as governor or senator, respectively?

If he runs as the candidate from Los Angeles, he will have to split that label with his predecessor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is still chasing his first legitimate post-mayoral job. If he runs as the Latino candidate, he will again share it with Villaraigosa. 

As I predicted for LA in 2017, “After Mayor Eric Garcetti is re-elected, he will abandon that which helped get him hired and quietly cooperate in federal programs to deport criminal residents, causing fear within law-abiding immigrant communities.” 

To wit: two weeks ago, our friends at LAist published a piece entitled “Confusion Remains Over Garcetti's Position On L.A. As A Sanctuary City.” 

How exactly Garcetti plans on winning the governor’s job by wavering on whether LA is or is not a sanctuary city, will be interesting to watch. He seems to have check-mated himself as someone who either causes LA to lose federal funding by not cooperating with federal immigration agencies, or by losing Los Angeles votes by passively enabling mass deportation. Villaraigosa, by comparison, has the luxury of not having to waver, since he is no longer governing.

Garcetti’s two leading opponents, themselves gurus in identity politics, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (i.e. the San Francisco candidate and LGBT champion) and State Treasurer John Chiang (the Sacramento and Asian candidate) both currently hold state-wide seats and have similar advantages over Garcetti. Fortunately for all of them, at least former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin recently decided to not run for Governor, but don’t expect her to endorse any declared candidate any time soon. 

Things are not going to be any easier for Garcetti should he instead try to run for U.S. Senator.

Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris is now firmly ensconced as Barbara Boxer’s replacement – a job she may hold onto for decades. And last week, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger toyed with the idea of running to replace incumbent Dianne Feinstein who, as she approaches 84 years of age, seems hell-bent on keeping the job for the duration. 

That leaves Garcetti having to do what he has yet embrace: his day-to-day job as Mayor of Los Angeles, rather than just its trappings and visibility. Otherwise, his second term as Mayor will be his final elected job. That’s how Antonio Villaraigosa treated being Mayor, and he is still looking for his next gig.


(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.