Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti came to Sacramento and dipped his toe ever so cautiously a little deeper into a campaign, for some office or another.
Would he say one way or the other whether he’s running for governor, or maybe president, my colleague Amy Chance asked at Garcetti’s first Sacramento Press Club visit.
“No,” he said, specifically to the governor’s question. “I’m going to take a little bit more time to think about it.”
Which leaves those of us in my line of work to ponder the next questions: Does no mean yes? Is he being coy? Or maybe, most likely, is he being straight and truly is undecided whether to run for governor? He was, after all, just reelected mayor in March, but he did win by a historic margin, 81 percent of the vote.
After the crowd had thinned, Garcetti spent a little time chatting with a few of us, and made clear he is confident that he could pass the first test of any statewide candidate. He could raise sufficient money. He raised $10 million for a Los Angeles transportation measure last year, and $5 million for his reelection.
In the money race, he has no doubt that he could catch the clear front-runner, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has been raising money since he announced his candidacy in February 2015 and has $13 million-plus in the bank. Garcetti’s stable of $100,000 donors runs from Hollywood moguls to billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who is toying with running (for something). That’s a story for another day.
He said a race would revolve around leadership. Maybe. All politicians talk about leadership. During his hour or so give-and-take with reporters, PR types and Capitol operatives, Garcetti was asked whether he supported the Delta tunnels, high-speed rail, free college tuition, housing, transportation, the Dodgers’ chances of winning the World Series and more – but not crime.
But criminal justice reform was an issue he raised when I asked him how, if he decides to run, he might differentiate himself.
“It’s failing right now, in many ways,” Garcetti said, which sounded like a shot at Newsom.
The lieutenant governor was a leading proponent of Proposition 47, the 2014 initiative that lowered penalties for property and drug crimes, reduced prison population by more than 3,000 and jail population by 8,000. Stupidly, the initiative failed to ensure that sufficient money would be available for programs when they got out. Money only now is being spent on the safety net, two years after many felons returned to the streets.
“I support criminal justice reform. But on the ground, the dollars that are supposed to help people not be addicts, not be homeless and be released from the criminal justice system with a safety net has only barely begun. …
“Now, many of them are on my skid row. They’re addicted. They break into cars.”
Crime rates are nowhere near what they had been decades ago and as issues go, crime is not what it was in the 1980s and ‘90s. The most recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed jobs and the economy remain the top issue for voters, followed by immigration, housing costs and, on down the list, crime.
But when high-profile crimes occur, people worry. And Los Angeles weathered double-digit crime increases in 2016, Garcetti noted. The increases ranged from car break-ins and other property crime to a 10 percent rise in violent crime, including a 5 percent rise in homicide. Don’t underestimate the potency of crime, particularly for swing voters.
Garcetti is riding high, not just because he won reelection in a landslide. He can claim credit for winning a measure to vastly increase funding to combat his city’s terrible homeless problem, confronting L.A. traffic by presiding over the construction of rail and subway routes and landing the Olympics for his city in 2028.
In Sacramento, he showed himself to be polished, quick on his feet and cautious about his next step, which is smart. He has a future beyond Los Angeles City Hall. I do not know whether he is going to get into the race for governor. But if he does, he’d give Newsom some serious competition.