DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - When overworked medical students become doctors, they take the Hippocratic Oath, which, depending on the Internet site you prefer, either does or does not contain the phrase, “First, do no harm.”
When Eric Garcetti was sworn in as mayor on June 30, he put a modern Los Angeles political spin on the situation. While never pronouncing the phrase, his first seven weeks in office reveals the Mayorcratic Oath that he is living by: First, Don’t pull a Villaraigosa.
This hasn’t been overt, as the Silver Lake Kid has barely mentioned his predecessor who, for the record, is neither governor of California (thank you Jerry Brown!) nor working in the Obama cabinet (thank you Charlie Sheen!). Instead, Garcetti has sought to differentiate himself through action, trading grandiose proclamations for a “back to basics” approach and assiduously avoiding any comparisons to He Who Dates Brunette TV News Readers.
In his first 50 days Garcetti mostly eschewed Big Media moments in favor of moves that offer both real and symbolic value, such as announcing his pothole filling blitz or the creation of a one-stop mayor’s office help line. Whereas Villaraigosa rigorously courted national attention as a tool to trampoline himself, Garcetti seems to care more about the city than his personal profile.
Through it all, there are a handful of moments that, if examined closely, seem to hint at the mayor Garcetti hopes to become. Here are the 10 most interesting actions and moves he has made so far.
Swearing Is Good: Garcetti’s swearing-in was a stark contrast to the pomp and circumstance of Villaraigosa. Rather than hold a stuffy City Hall ceremony followed by a black tie party for big-budget donors like AnVil did in 2005 (on the bright side, it doubled as a fundraiser for after-school program L.A.’s Best), Garcetti orchestrated a Sunday evening swearing-in complete with Moby and Jimmy Kimmel and a community celebration in Grand Park. During his inaugural address Villaraigosa asked Angelenos to “Dream with me” and promised to plant 1 million trees. Garcetti instead touched on matters such as runaway production and, according to a transcript, said, “I’ll set an example in L.A., by working to eliminate the tangle of fees and rules that make filming here feel more like Les Misérables, instead of Fast and Furious like it ought to be.”
That makes Garcetti the first mayor of any city to mention a Vin Diesel movie in public. Hey, everyone makes mistakes.
Rewarding Friends: Attorney and former radio host Kevin James never had a shot at becoming mayor. Still, after finishing third in the primary, the race’s lone Republican became a valuable Garcetti ally. James not only endorsed Garcetti and helped him court conservative voters, but after Wendy Greuel publicly slammed James following the primary, James released some ouchtastic Greuel texts, revealing how she tried to woo him. On July 12, James got his reward when Garcetti nominated him to the Board of Public Works. A few council members tossed a few quasi-tough questions James’ way during his July 30 confirmation hearing, but ultimately they voted 11-0 to give him the post which, by the way, comes with a $136,000 salary. His co-panelists then made James president of the board.
James wasn’t the only former rival to fare well. Garcetti named ex-Downtown Councilwoman Jan Perry interim head of the city’s Department of Economic Development. Perry finished fourth in the primary but then endorsed Garcetti and helped him stump for the African-American vote.
Punishing Foes: A seat on the MTA board doesn’t come with a salary, just bribes. Joking! Still, it’s a high-profile post, especially for politicians pursuing transit projects. The mayor of L.A. gets a spot on the 13-member panel and controls three other positions, and on July 18 Garcetti appointed housing advocate Jackie Dupont-Walker and council members Paul Krekorian and Mike Bonin to the board. New mayors usually clean house on appointments, and Garcetti removed former Assemblyman Richard Katz, businessman Mel Wilson and, shazam, Downtown Councilman and chief streetcar advocate José Huizar. Huizar had campaigned vigorously for Greuel during the race, and this may have been payback. Still, Huizar looks to be OK: Council President Herb Wesson named him chair of the council’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
Then again, last week’s report of a sexual harassment claim being filed against Huizar may give him other things to think about.
The Biggest House Cleaner Outside Molly Maid: While the best way to avoid being compared to Villaraigosa is not to behave like Villaraigosa, Garcetti is also demonstrating his independent streak by cleaning house on high-profile commissions. These jobs don’t have salaries (the only paid panel is the Board of Public Works), but the wonks and lobbyists watch the composition closely, in part to discern how much institutional knowledge remains. In addition to pulling a complete presto-change of AnVil’s appointees at Public Works, Garcetti on Aug. 14 swapped out four of the five Police Commission slots, with the highest-profile addition being developer Steve Soboroff. This came a day after Garcetti donned a captain’s hat and put six members of the seven-person Airport Commission on the tarmac and brought in his own flight crew. I’ll ground the airy lines now, thank you.
Holy Sharknado!: Garcetti has been ahead of the political curve when it comes to social media, and on July 12 he typed the most unexpected mayoral Tweet since, well, ever. He wrote, “Looks like a great LA day today. Unless of course #sharknado is coming. Fingers crossed…” The reference to the SyFy channel film about a tornado that plucks killer sharks from the ocean and plops them in L.A. proved that the mayor has a sense of humor and indicates that he likely sometimes seizes his Twitter account from the hands of staffers, which never seemed to occur during the Villaraigosa years. Fortunately, Garcetti has yet to Tweet about Aubrey Plaza’s The To Do List.
On the Job Hunt: Speaking of Twitter, not only has Garcetti asked all city department heads to reapply for their jobs, but he invited the media to his opening remarks on the subject and, on July 8 Tweeted that the GMs need to detail their priorities on customer service if they hope to keep working. The public injection into the personnel process is unprecedented. It also sets the stage for some high-profile departures. If you listen closely in City Hall, you can hear several embattled GMs whisper practicing the line, “I serve at the pleasure of the mayor.”
New King Cole: Villaraigosa had about 931 deputy mayors. Garcetti plans to have four, and on July 12 he announced that the capo for Budget and Innovation is former Pasadena mayor and Ventura city manager Rick Cole. This is significant because, before becoming mayor, Garcetti knew more about salad shooters than he did Cole. That may be an overstatement, but if so it’s not much of one, as Cole and Garcetti reportedly didn’t know each other until July. This is a big change from the politically predictable move of surrounding oneself with longtime supporters and yes-men.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for familiarity in the inner circle: On Aug. 6, Garcetti named Rick Jacobs his deputy chief of staff. Jacobs ran a political action committee that raised millions for Garcetti during the mayor’s race.
Green Giants: L.A. politicians like to talk about going green, but too often it’s lip service. On Aug. 2, however, Garcetti hired Matt Petersen to be L.A.’s first Chief Sustainability Officer. The former president and CEO of something called Global Green USA will have tasks including developing environmental initiatives across city departments, and nagging people in City Hall to turn off the water while they brush their teeth.
The Sickness of the DWP: Much has been made about the negotiations for new labor contracts for Department of Water & Power employees, with Garcetti trying for a more cost-conscious deal than the one Villaraigosa was pushing. The most interesting aspect of the process to date is that just as news of the negotiations erupted, so did a Los Angeles Times report revealing that DWP employees get essentially unlimited paid sick time. It was the latest black eye for the DWP and its union, and Garcetti’s office was quick to pounce, as he and other pols called for an investigation. A week later a chastened DWP altered its policy, requiring a doctor’s note for those out three days or longer. Call it a victory for Garcetti, even if it’s just a battle and not the war.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: When the Trayvon Martin ruling came down on July 13 and a few people in Los Angeles got persnickety (the official LAPD term), Garcetti quickly returned from a vacation almost nobody knew about. The fact that he was out of L.A. so early in his term was one big surprise. But more shocking is that he was vacationing in Pittsburgh. I’m sure the Steel City is lovely in July, but if I had 200 guesses as to where the L.A. mayor would go on vacation, Pittsburgh would not be on the list. Villaraigosa destinations like Iceland, South Africa or Cabo would be there, but Pittsburgh? As they said in the movie Airplane!, “Golly!”
Jon Regardie is executive editor of Downtown News.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013