Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has led the city during a period of booming development, a worsening homelessness crisis and a devastating pandemic, is President Biden’s nominee to become ambassador to India, the White House announced Friday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Garcetti would become the first L.A. mayor to voluntarily leave office before the end of his term in more than a century. He was originally scheduled to step down in December 2022, when he would have finished a second term that was extended by 18 months when the city changed its election calendar.
In making the announcement, the White House emphasized Garcetti’s sweeping responsibilities and Los Angeles’ global role, highlighting the mayor’s oversight of the busiest container ship port in the Western Hemisphere and one of the world’s busiest airports. Garcetti has also networked with counterparts around the globe to push stronger policies on climate change, including in India.
Garcetti, in a statement announcing his appointment, said he loves Los Angeles and “will always be an Angeleno.”
“I have committed my life to service — as an activist, as a teacher, as a naval officer, as a public servant, and if confirmed, next as an ambassador,” he said. “Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call.”
Garcetti’s nomination appears to signal that the Biden White House is willing to look past the high-profile accusations that have engulfed the mayor’s office over the last year.
Garcetti and his team face allegations that they failed to address sexual harassment by an aide in his office — which they deny — while Garcetti’s chief of staff is on leave following revelations about her involvement in a private Facebook group.
Garcetti, first elected mayor in 2013, is poised to leave office as the city continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed many Angelenos out of work and caused countless small businesses to close. While stores and restaurants have reopened, questions remain over how quickly the city’s tourism industry will rebound and what the future holds for downtown, Hollywood and other business centers.
An ambassadorship in the Biden administration gives Garcetti a new career path away from electoral politics. But it also opens him to criticism that he is abandoning Los Angeles as it grapples with an intractable homelessness crisis and rising gun violence.
Council President Nury Martinez, in a statement following Friday’s announcement, praised Garcetti for his work raising the minimum wage and the city’s COVID-19 response.
“I have always been grateful for our partnership and I have no doubt he’ll do amazing things in this new role,” she said.
Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Assn., was not unhappy to learn that the mayor could leave early, saying she’s long been frustrated with his handling of homelessness and trash on the streets.
“Brilliant man, horribly flawed execution as the manager of a city that’s in trouble,” said Lopez, whose organization manages a business improvement district that takes in part of downtown, including skid row. “I understand being mayor of Los Angeles involves national and global policies, but not at the expense of what’s happening on our streets.”
The son of former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, Eric Garcetti has a long history with Biden. The mayor urged Biden to run for president in 2016 and served as a co-chair of his 2020 presidential campaign. The nomination is likely to be viewed as a recognition of the mayor’s loyalty.
Garcetti, 50, repeatedly declined in recent months to discuss his prospects for becoming a Biden appointee, calling the possibility “speculative.” Still, he acknowledged that he saw a link between the work of City Hall and the nation’s diplomatic corps.
“The skills you learn as an elected official are daily diplomacy,” Garcetti said last month. “It is about resolving conflict. It’s about bringing cultures together. It’s about making sure that you build coalitions. It’s about trying to get people who are sometimes at odds with each other to move forward together.”
Garcetti has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and also studied international relations as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in Britain. Before he entered politics, Garcetti briefly taught diplomacy and international relations at Occidental College and USC.
An ambassadorship in India would allow Garcetti to work on such issues as pandemic relief, climate change, trade and immigration, offering him new foreign policy experience. The job also would let him move on to a new government post without having to run for statewide office in California, which several L.A. mayors have tried to do and failed.
Still, a post to India was perplexing to some.
“Why India?” Steve Erie, professor emeritus of political science at UC San Diego, said in an interview this spring after it was first reported that Garcetti was under consideration for the post. Mexico, where Garcetti’s paternal grandfather was born, would have made more sense, he said.
“India is a little bit out of left field,” Erie said.
A Democrat, Garcetti has championed liberal causes, such as increases in L.A.’s minimum wage and local ballot measures that raised billions of dollars to build homeless housing and transit lines.
Still, critics viewed him as someone whose personal ambitions — he spent two years floating himself as a possible presidential candidate — at times eclipsed his focus on the city.
When he announced he wouldn’t launch a long-shot campaign for president in 2019, he said he believed that “whenever possible, you should finish the job that you set out to do.”
Last year, he left the door open to joining Biden’s Cabinet, then announced he was staying put just as the city was gripped by COVID-19’s brutal winter surge.
Garcetti’s nomination will need to go through the U.S. Senate, where he could face questions about sexual harassment allegations against Rick Jacobs, one of his former advisors. A Los Angeles police officer who is suing the city said he was harassed by Jacobs and that Garcetti failed to stop it. Jacobs has denied the allegations.
Garcetti has denied seeing any inappropriate behavior. One of his other aides, Chief of Staff Ana Guerrero, was placed on indefinite leave last month in the wake of a scandal over disparaging remarks she posted in a private Facebook group.
Garcetti, who lives in the official mayor’s residence in Windsor Square, was first elected in 2001 to serve on the City Council, representing neighborhoods from Hollywood to Echo Park. While in that post, he served several years as council president as the city confronted a major budget crisis triggered by the 2008 recession.
During his time as mayor, the city continued its recovery, adding gleaming new high-rise towers, museums and sports facilities. In 2017, he stood on the field at StubHub Center, as it was known then, to announce that L.A. had signed a deal to host the 2028 Olympics.
At the same time, Garcetti presided over a construction boom in transportation, with new light rail and subway lines being built in some of the city’s densest neighborhoods. But for all the focus on growth, the number of people living on the streets also steadily grew, underscoring the sense of a widening economic divide.
L.A. is locked in a battle with a federal judge who is demanding that city leaders move homeless people out of skid row by October. The city is also facing a major spike in homicides and shootings so far this year.
Downtown development was also at the core of a federal investigation into bribery and racketeering that led to criminal charges for former Councilman Jose Huizar and one of Garcetti’s former aides, Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan. Huizar and Chan have pleaded not guilty.
Garcetti’s nomination also sets the stage for the City Council to take up the question of who should finish out the remainder of his term.
If Garcetti is confirmed, his replacement would need to oversee the city’s continued effort to recover from the pandemic. City Hall remains closed to the public and restaurants and other businesses are still struggling.
Meanwhile, the city’s financial future remains shaky, even with a huge infusion of aid from the Biden administration.
It’s up to the City Council, which has the power to choose an interim replacement for Garcetti, to determine just how much change the mayor’s departure will bring, said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson.
The significance of Friday’s announcement “really depends on who the City Council picks as interim mayor,” she said. “If they pick a caretaker who just continues the policies that are being implemented, their day-to-day lives will not change.”
Smith reported from Los Angeles and Megerian from Washington. Times staff writer David Zahniser in Los Angeles contributed to this report.