Eric Garcetti skips past scandal on downhill path to New Delhi
Not much has gotten easy lately for Eric Garcetti.
Long regarded as a golden boy of California politics, the mayor of Los Angeles was said to be on the verge of reaching the one-year mark to take a high position in the Biden cabinet. Instead, he is preparing to leave his town hall with the city reeling from growing crime, sprawling tent camps and a pandemic malaise that has led one of his predecessors to declare “Rome is on fire.”
Even more problematic, Garcetti grabbed the headlines following allegations of sexual harassment against a former senior adviser, raising fears he oversaw an office culture that silenced workers. victims.
During Biden’s transition and in the months that followed, there was angst about his closeness to the mayor, with some fearing he would become a distraction. Garcetti eventually got an ambassadorial appointment.
And despite all these setbacks, Garcetti on Tuesday took another step towards obtaining one of the most important diplomatic posts: the post of ambassador to India. His barely assisted, apparently pro forma, hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee produced no fireworks. This was the last indication that the job was his (a formal committee vote is expected soon) and it will soon start a scramble over who gets the acting job to lead the second largest city in the United States.
Garcetti’s drama-free hearing underscored just how ready Democrats are to back President Joe Biden in his appointments, even amid the high political winds surrounding allegations of workplace misconduct. They also illustrate how loyalty continues to be one of Biden’s most valuable currencies as well. Garcetti not only avoided his own presidential bid in 2020, he endorsed the president’s nomination at a low point in the primary, before continuing to hold high-level positions, including campaign co-chair Biden, vice -Presidential selection committee and inaugural committee.
Inside Los Angeles City Hall, officials were convinced that allegations of sexual harassment against Garcetti’s former adviser Rick Jacobs would end up scolding Garcetti’s candidacy for ambassador, especially after a recent New York Magazine article concluded that the mayor was aware of the complaints long before they were made public. But Garcetti insisted, including under oath and again in Tuesday’s hearing, that he was not aware of any abuse and that he would not have tolerated it had he done so.
Few of the senators present were inclined to urge him.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) was the only panel member to ask questions about the allegations that have followed Garcetti since Matthew Garza, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department who spent years serving in the mayor’s security services, lodged a complaint last time. year claiming that Garcetti witnessed the behavior and did not intervene. There was no follow-up from Shaheen, or the others.
Garza’s case against the city in July 2020 contained allegations of rude and unwanted sexual comments and touching by Jacobs which he said had been going on for years. He further alleged that at times Garcetti made fun of Jacobs’ rude comments. The trial was amplified three months later by Yashar Ali, the freelance writer and former political agent, who published an article in which he reported a first-hand account of how Jacobs forcefully kissed and hugged him – and others. The story, Ali said, sparked an immediate backlash.
“Despite repeated attempts by Mayor Garcetti and his supporters to denigrate me,” Ali told POLITICO, “my reports were confirmed by several news outlets and by several witnesses in their statements, sworn in, in the Garza trial. “.
Shortly after Ali’s initial story, the Los Angeles Times reported on two more accusers of Jacobs. The Times also revealed a photo of Jacobs, who has repeatedly denied harassing anyone, making a provocative gesture towards another man – with Garcetti pictured among the group. And in the New York Magazine article, published earlier this month, Garcetti’s former communications director Naomi Seligman detailed Jacobs’ alleged abuses, parts of which appeared in the deposition testimony she gave over the summer in the Garza trial.
Garcetti, for his part, has said throughout that he was not aware of the behavior of his main collaborator. His prospects for a senior position with Biden (initially Transportation Secretary, then National Climate Tsar or Navy Secretary) have dimmed as more information about Jacobs has emerged. In July, the president announced he was appointing the mayor as ambassador to India, and a White House official at the time reiterated what Garcetti said about his lack of knowledge about Jacobs before the trial.
Garcetti’s Los Angeles spokesperson said the mayor’s response in his testimony on Tuesday spoke for itself. Chris Meagher, a White House spokesman, said Tuesday: âThe president has confidence in Mayor Garcetti and thinks he will be an excellent representative in India.
Once nominated, Garcetti faced relatively few hiccups. Seligman, in an interview, described the lack of scrutiny by US senators on Jacobs’ allegations as “deeply frustrating” and “very disappointing.” But she said she had no preconceived idea of ââthe political impact of her claims against Jacobs.
“Do I know that sitting senators don’t want to embarrass President Biden?” Yeah, I knew it, “she said.” Was I hoping someone would be braver than that? Yeah. “
Jacobs did not return a request for comment.
Seligman added that his attorney had offered to discuss the matter with senators and that staff on both sides of the aisle spoke with the attorney. âThese questions require a great deal of judgment and [Garcetti] showed he had no judgment. And it has not been explored.
Whatever detailed information staff obtained from their talks with Seligman’s representative did not reach the public hearing on Tuesday.
Garcetti was introduced by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Who called the mayor’s credentials “impressive” and said he had led the city through a number of challenges while building on it. its position to exert influence on national and international organizations.
“We all know India is located in a difficult area,” Garcetti told the committee, adding that if confirmed, he would expand his efforts to strengthen India’s ability to secure its border, to defend its sovereignty, to fight terrorism and to deter attacks.
Garcetti said he visited India in 1990 and started studying Hindi and Urdu at university, as well as Indian religious and cultural history, and stressed the importance of human rights. man, trade and collaboration with India to tackle climate change.
Jacobs scandal aside, Garcetti’s selection for the post has turned some heads for the little involvement he has had with the country he is sent to. An observer close to India said the great hope now among some diplomats is that Garcetti has Biden’s ear on sensitive and topical matters and may be able to bypass the chain of command to which a diplomat career might be faced to get to the president. But, the person added, speaking anonymously to avoid possible conflict, “hope” is not the same as politics.
“People were a little baffled by the appointment because no one had heard of Eric Garcetti,” said Seema Sirohi, Washington-based Indian columnist for The Economic Times who has been covering Indo-American relations for three decades. . “At a time when China is supposed to be America’s great rival and India a great source of strength, the Biden administration needed a candidate with strong foreign policy skills.”
For Garcetti, an early exit from Los Angeles would come at a difficult time. When he first refused to run for president in 2019, promising to deal with unfinished business instead, the city faced an upsurge in homelessness. It has only worsened since that time, adding to the challenges of the pandemic as well as the increase in crime, from thefts to homicides.
Michael Trujillo, a Democratic strategist in Los Angeles who has criticized Garcetti in the past and worked for former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, noted that for all issues at home, Garcetti has found a way out and in international affairs of the big league, something more the former mayors had not been able to do.
âHe cracked the code of the mayors of LA,â Trujillo said.
With the nomination shifting, there is a lot of scramble for Garcetti’s work, albeit in an acting capacity before the next four-year term election takes place next year. The president of the city council, Nury Martinez, could intervene. Another city council member, Paul Krekorian, is said to have the voices of his colleagues, two officials said, although it is not clear whether he wants to give up his seat. Both scenarios would help city taxpayers avoid a costly election.
And Villaraigosa, who was mayor from 2005 to 2013 and is barred from another full term, has made appeals and indicated he’s interested in the nomination, but only if it happens soon and he has enough time to maneuver in work.
“It can’t be for six months,” he said on Tuesday, saying that too short a term would create difficulties in putting the city on a good footing.
Others aren’t thrilled that he’s coming back, no matter how long. A high-ranking source at town hall likened Villaraigosa’s possible re-emergence to that of an aging boxer “who was beaten up so many times that they offered him a job as a receptionist in the casino lobby.”
Villaraigosa, who had issued his warning that “Rome is on fire” on a recent local TV show, declined to respond.