Even before he trounced a field of 10 little-known challengers Tuesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s political future was the subject of speculation.
With the field taking shape for next year’s race for California governor and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election bid still unannounced, Garcetti has navigated an understated and scandal-free run at the helm of the nation’s second-largest city.
On Tuesday, he led the low-turnout election with more than 80 percent of the vote in a year during which his smiling face was the most-sought-after campaign-mail commodity. His record of consistently landing on the winning side of city ballot measures – and his role in a union-inspired effort to raise the minimum wage – certainly help his appeal.
(Winning with 80 percent of the vote), one has to believe that positions Garcetti to run for Senate or governor if he so chooses
Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party
“One has to believe (the election) positions Garcetti to run for Senate or governor if he so chooses,” Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, said in an interview Wednesday. He added that a victory of that magnitude has not been seen in Los Angeles in roughly 100 years.
“In the lead-up to election day, the visibility that he had from television, digital media and other campaign activities certainly increased people’s awareness of him all across Southern California,” Bauman said. “Running on the successes that he has, and receiving that kind of response from voters, validates his mayorship, and certainly provides him with a great story to tell no matter what he runs for.”
If the first question is choosing between governor and U.S. Senate, Garcetti, a former City Council president, has said he prefers an executive office.
The 46-year-old, fourth-generation Angelino of Mexican-Italian-Jewish descent had been telling donors to his mayoral campaign to remain neutral in the governor’s race – for now. He spent more than $3 million bolstering his profile in a mayoral campaign during which the only mystery was the size of his margin of victory.
I don’t make pledges about the future. But I am really excited to get back to work as mayor on a second term.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
While his team has been mum about his future, Garcetti was asked Wednesday on Los Angeles CBS radio station KNX 1070 if he intends to serve out his full, 5 1/2 -year term as mayor, which is longer than usual because of a change in the election date.
“I don’t know where I am going to be, but I know I’ll be serving the people of the city of Los Angeles,” Garcetti replied. “I don’t make pledges about the future. But I am really excited to get back to work as mayor on a second term.”
“I want to continue building out the subway system and the light-rail lines and reduce traffic. And I want to continue to get this economy humming. I want us to embody the values of our city and also have the opportunity to show America what a city that’s moving forward looks like.
“If I can serve people doing that, I’ll be a happy camper.”
The city’s swearing-in ceremony is July 1, following a May 16 runoff for other positions. Dan Schnur, a campaign veteran and USC professor, said the large margin allows the mayor to move quickly if he chooses.
“If he decided to run, there is going to be some backlash no matter what, but it’s a lot more manageable for someone who just got elected with 80 percent of the vote than somebody that just squeaked by,” Schnur said.
Another opening for Garcetti could come in September, after the International Olympic Committee announces whether Los Angeles has won its bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. The longer he waits, the less time he has to raise money.
Other Democrats in the governor’s race include Treasurer John Chiang, former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, though several others including Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, former Controller Steve Westly and environmental activist Tom Steyer may run. Republican businessman John Cox entered the contest Tuesday.
The opportunity for Garcetti is to stake out the Democratic base, Schnur said.
“Garcetti would need to run to the left of the field. He competes with Villaraigosa and Chiang geographically, but his most significant ideological competition is Newsom,” he said.
While Garcetti polls strongly in Los Angeles, statewide public surveys show him and the others running well behind Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor whose Bay Area roots, gut appeal with the party faithful over liberal issues and early support from groups like the nurses union position him as the likeliest recipient of Bernie Sanders-wing voters.
In his victory speech Tuesday, interrupted by demonstrators who want him to declare Los Angeles a “sanctuary city,” Garcetti talked about slashing the unemployment rate, spending on infrastructure and moving to protect the city’s large undocumented population.
He believes his city is already a place of “sanctuary,” from churches to schools to public facilities, and insists his Police Deparment is not focused on enforcing federal immigration law. Still, he’s refrained from making the overt declaration.
“It’s time to stop thinking about the most powerful man in our country and start thinking about the most vulnerable people in our city,” Garcetti said in the address, which included a shout-out to the protesters. “If we are silent,” he added, “that is the greatest crime of all.”