DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - The challenges facing Los Angeles in the next four years are very serious. Although the economy has rebounded somewhat from the depths of the recession, the city still faces a tough structural deficit — this year’s budget shortfall started north of $100 million. At the same time, unemployment remains stubbornly high and thousands of miles of streets and sidewalks are in disrepair. There’s a pervasive feeling that government cares more about special interests than citizens. All of the above could pale in comparison to the quandary surrounding public safety: Crime is at a historically low level, but questions swirl about how L.A. will maintain enough police officers and firefighters to make Angelenos feel protected.
These are only a few of the problems, challenges and issues the next mayor of Los Angeles — either City Controller Wendy Greuel or City Councilman Eric Garcetti — will have to face. On top of these are subjects such as reining in pension costs for municipal employees, trying to ease traffic congestion, doing what can be done from the mayor’s office to ensure children have high-quality educational choices, and leading and inspiring a wildly diverse city of 4 million people.
We think Garcetti is the better equipped of the candidates to handle these and other challenges and to lead Los Angeles over the next four years. Los Angeles Downtown News endorses Eric Garcetti for mayor.
Every candidate has his or her detractors, but Garcetti has generally impressed during the 12 years he has represented the 13th District on the City Council. During that time, multiple communities in his territory have seen big advances, becoming more active and livable. Although the improvements in Hollywood, Silver Lake and other neighborhoods can partly be attributed to larger economic cycles, Garcetti has routinely nurtured the gains, knowing when government can help and when it is better to stay in the background and let business or neighborhood groups take the lead. The growth in his district is similar to that seen in Downtown Los Angeles during the same period.
Garcetti has valuable leadership experience that will serve him well in the mayor’s suite. Although he was one of the council’s younger members in 2006, he became the panel’s president and held the post for six years. During that period he favored consensus-building over strong-arming. His style was different and quieter than those who came before and after him: He skipped the flash and bombastic rhetoric, yet still largely managed to keep a batch of big egos in check, which is no easy task.
The council presidency put Garcetti on the front line for some important battles, and also gave him experience on thorny budgetary matters such as negotiating a controversial early retirement system for city employees. While today that seems to have been accepted as a successful move to help reduce city spending, he was also atop the panel in 2007 when city leaders voted to give 25% raises to many city workers — salary hikes Los Angeles now cannot afford. Of course, Greuel and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were also among the elected leaders who supported the now unfortunate pay hikes.
Choosing the next mayor is not just about evaluating a candidate’s record, but also about discerning what types of experience best prepare a person for the future. This is a crucial time for Los Angeles, a city poised to become even more of a business and cultural pacesetter across the country and throughout the Pacific Rim. Along with the challenges mentioned above, there are immense opportunities.
We think Garcetti is the most likely candidate to take advantage of what the city has to offer, and we expect he will balance his even-keeled nature with an appropriate scale of vision. The tenure of Villaraigosa demonstrated what can happen when a cocktail of massive vision and unbounded personal ambition exceed a leader’s focus and abilities. Garcetti doesn’t dream as big as Villaraigosa (nor does Greuel), and that’s probably a good thing.
Garcetti’s vision is more focused and practical that the current mayor’s. We like his recognition of the need to seize on technology in the next four years — hiring a city technology czar is a wise move. His Great Streets program, an effort to improve 20 key corridors, is another good start. We expect more big ideas will develop and that they will complement the focus on nuts and bolts work.
We don’t pretend that Garcetti arrives with every tool needed to lead the city. During the primary Downtown News endorsed Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry, in part for the work she did in Downtown over the past dozen years, which we believed she could expand citywide, and in part because we felt she was tough enough to take on entrenched forces.
Garcetti still needs to shake the suggestions that he lacks the toughness required to hold back the lobbyists and special interests clawing for power inside City Hall. He’ll have to master the bully pulpit, which is often the most valuable tool a Los Angeles mayor has, and which is far different than the job demands of the council president. Some question how independent Garcetti can be regarding education when he is strongly allied with the teachers’ union. In short, he’ll have to demonstrate from day one that he has the fortitude, independence and transparency that being mayor requires.
Greuel is a good candidate, and we could see her being an effective mayor (though not as effective as her competitor). Her strengths include her experience in multiple levels of government and the private sector. Very few question her toughness, and her years on the council and as controller provide her with a firm grasp of L.A.’s fiscal situation.
She has also, in the latter stage of the campaign, demonstrated an understanding of what the next mayor will have to do. Her “L.A. Forward” is a smart blueprint for addressing job creation and other matters.
However, “L.A. Forward” is a late-stage addition to her platform, and it comes only after Greuel has continually disappointed on the campaign trail. For much of the race she was frustratingly vague, and when she got specific the ideas too frequently seemed impossible — think of her plan to increase the LAPD to 12,000 officers.
Additionally, her campaign has at times been unnecessarily bruising to others. Yes, Greuel was the early frontrunner and thus the subject of many attacks from her competitors, but her responses could be far harsher and more personal than required; the explanation that it was “just politics” doesn’t erase the needless hits, and we think a candidate is ultimately responsible for all that occurs under his or her name. If Greuel can’t run an effective and responsible campaign, it is fair to question how she will respond to the myriad challenges of running a city and dealing with the harsh criticism and confrontation that at times can seem to come from all sides. The choices she made during the race have repercussions.
Although the campaign has been bitter and will undoubtedly get more so in the two weeks leading up to the May 21 election, this remains an exciting time for Los Angeles. Change is coming, and with it comes the chance to move Downtown and the rest of the city forward. We think Eric Garcetti is the right person for the job.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013