Welcome to Los Angeles, where political careers will die
Just a few years ago, the mayor of Los Angeles would have seemed much more politically attractive, when Eric Garcetti, the current incumbent, looked set to run for president. Today, Garcetti can leave office without a job – his appointment as ambassador to India languishes amid criticism over his handling of sexual misconduct complaints against a top aide.
Democratic representative. Karen Bass, a mayoral candidate, was on President Joe Biden’s 2020 vice presidential shortlist. But the mayors of Los Angeles can forget the White House. No one has ever even come up to the governor’s office. When Garcetti’s predecessor Antonio Villaraigosa ran for governor in 2018, he finished a distant third.
« It’s really, really hard work because everyone sees you, » Garcetti said in an interview. “And that’s the part of the job that I love, you can do concrete and immediate things. But they also believe that you can change everything, and these positions are much more powerful than people ever imagined, and also much more powerless than people realize, sometimes over the smallest things: Why can’t you? don’t you just get rid of this tent? Why can’t you just secure this intersection? »
Now, whoever becomes mayor — Bass or his former billionaire Republican opponent, Rick Caruso — will have to deal with not only those issues, but also the fallout from the leaked gang of three city council members engaged in racist conversation. And there is widespread pessimism among voters about just how much can be done.
Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist who led a series of homelessness focus groups in the Los Angeles area late last year, said what stood out was that voters « were just discouraged and discouraged and had given up hope that any elected official anywhere in the Los Angeles area was going to do anything – on homelessness, of course, but also on other issues.
Unlike New York Mayor Eric Adams, who oversees the school district and works with a 51-person city council where each member has diminished power, Los Angeles’ next mayor will face an independent school board, 15 influential members council and a strong county government. over which the mayor has no control.
“The Council plays an important role,” Sragow said. « Whether it’s Bass or Caruso, you have a Council that, at least for now – and probably for a while – is quite dysfunctional and has lost the trust of voters. So how do you do things, I don’t know.
Even as the Council elected a new president to replace Nury Martinez, who resigned last week after the release of a secretly recorded tape that captured her making racist and derogatory remarks, two other Council members who participated in the conversation remain. Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo resisted calls to vacate their seats, prompting widespread outrage and promises from protesters that any in-person meetings would be shut down.
At a Council meeting this week held remotely after a member tested positive for Covid-19, protesters tried to force the entrance of the town hall. For more than three hours, they made expletive-laden calls for members to stop the meeting.
Bass was the favorite in the mayoral race, though Caruso spent big, and some polls showed a shrinking contest, or even Caruso ahead. The political trajectory of the office may not weigh heavily on Bass — a former California Assembly speaker and longtime community activist who is not seen as someone who hopes to turn the job into a higher position.
“What’s different from … Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti,” said Kerman Maddox — a longtime political strategist in Los Angeles who is an unpaid adviser to the Bass campaign — is that “Karen Bass is 69 years old. That’s it for her. She is not aiming to run for another office.
He said, « When she told me early on, ‘You know what, I’m going to leave a safe seat in Congress to come home to tackle this,’ she said, ‘Kerman, c ‘s this, this is my last. So I’m going to get in there and I’m going to make tough, albeit unpopular, decisions because I don’t make decisions based on how it affects me to run for governor or to run for the US Senate, and therefore nothing against Antonio Villaraigosa, nothing against Eric Garcetti, but her point of view is different because she is not aiming for a future political mandate.
John Shallman, a political consultant who worked closely with former Los Angeles mayors Richard Riordan and James Hahn, called the post « a thankless job that tends to end careers more than it begins. »
This has been true for generations. Prior to Villaraigosa’s failed bid for governor, Riordan and Tom Bradley also failed in their bids for the state’s highest office. Bradley led Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993.
« You just have to get used to the idea that in this particular job, do the best job you can do and call it a day, » said Shallman, who recently advised City Attorney Mike Feuer’s unsuccessful campaign. .
One of the biggest political hurdles for Los Angeles mayors is a vast network of local and regional leaders who don’t always share the same goals. Shallman likened each member of the 15-person city council to a mini-mayor with a political agenda. The mayor must also work with a powerful County Board of Supervisors and dozens of neighboring city governments over which he has no control.
Bass supporters say her background as a former community activist makes her uniquely suited to lead the city through racial reckoning. But Villaraigosa, a longtime Bass ally, said the ability to work across racial and political lines is an essential quality for any L.A. mayor, whose power is limited.
« The mayor of Los Angeles has to be someone who is comfortable in every community, and she is, » he said in an interview. “Nobody has a history of working across the racial lines that she has. As painful as that period was, I wouldn’t say it changed the dynamics of qualifying for the next mayor.
Bass said she left a safe congressional district to run for mayor because racial and economic inequality in the city has, in some ways, only worsened in the decades since she was elected. fought poverty and crime as an activist in South Los Angeles.
« And now look at the homeless situation, » she said in an interview. « If we had approached him and supported him, I wouldn’t be running for mayor. I would be running for re-election to the House.
How much Bass or Caruso can do if they win is an open question. Even the current occupant of the office can see their limitations.
« I think it’s OK not to want a single tent on the streets of LA, » Garcetti said. « It’s also OK not to want traffic in LA. It’s also OK to not want pollution or smog in LA. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting an unaffordable unit to Los Angeles, and those have to be our goals. If we’re not moving towards those, what do we do?
He added, « But what’s hard for people in a one-click culture — where anything you want from Amazon is coming this afternoon — is understanding that governance is different. »