Tuesday, June 19

Abhishek Shetty: Mayor should focus on city, not on building national political image

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been trying to gain political recognition in other states, signaling his ambition to be a Democratic nominee for a future presidency. (Courtesy Photo)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been trying to gain political recognition in other states, signaling his ambition to be a Democratic nominee for a future presidency. (Courtesy Photo)

Placing bumper stickers on cars won’t transform you from a relatively unknown mayor to the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic primary winner. That’s a message that needs to be sent to whichever swing state or donor’s house Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is in right now.

In August, Garcetti traveled across the country to Manchester, New Hampshire, to campaign for Joyce Craig, the city’s mayoral candidate. It’s worth noting, though, a politician from Los Angeles has little sway over how swing voters vote in New Hampshire. He’s not a senator or even a representative – he’s just a mayor from a far-off city.

The campaigning is more of a see-through attempt from Garcetti to build his national image for what could become a future run for president, especially considering New Hampshire holds one of the first primaries during the presidential election season.

But Angelenos didn’t give Garcetti a second term as mayor so that he could secure his political future. If he really wants to build political capital, Garcetti needs to focus his efforts on LA and show his abilities through his work as mayor, not as a political celebrity in another state.

Garcetti’s apparent name-building exercise has taken him places. Right before his visit to New Hampshire, Garcetti travelled to the Hamptons in New York to attend a cocktail party hosted by billionaire donor Ronald Perelman. In June, he took the time off to travel to the swing state of Wisconsin, where he was a keynote speaker at the Democratic State Convention. Both visits bear the signs of a politician building up links for a national campaign.

And last month in Manchester, he told Politico there was no real disadvantage in being a newcomer to national politics and that candidates have succeeded even with little prior name recognition. This was his most clear-cut indication that he’s considering making a run for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

But if Garcetti wants to be taken seriously in his presidential ambitions, he’ll need to work harder to become a national household name. President Donald Trump may have showed us that anyone can become president, but he had already built an image as a billionaire tycoon and reality television star. For former President Barack Obama, it was a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 that aided his 2008 run for president.

Garcetti, on the other hand, doesn’t have such a national image, quite noticeably evidenced by the fact that during his campaigning for Craig, a number of Manchester residents didn’t even know which city he was mayor of.

Add to that the fact that mayors have an underwhelming track record when it comes to presidential nominations and that no incumbent mayor has ever won the presidency. The kind of run for the White House Garcetti seems to be building toward would be a long shot.

Moreover, the people of LA re-elected Garcetti earlier this year so he could lead the city, not use the mayor’s office as a stepping stone for his ambitions. Laying the groundwork for a presidential nomination would be a distraction from his job to serve the residents of LA. And there’s still plenty of work to be done here.

Los Angeles is currently in the midst of one of the nation’s largest homelessness crises. Over just the past year, homelessness in the city increased by 20 percent. The passage of county Measure HHH in 2016 allows the city to issue $1.2 billion in bonds to solve this crisis, but now the city needs adept leadership to direct these funds in an appropriate manner – something that’s harder to do when you’re focusing on 2020.

There’s also the massive issue of transportation. LA is already synonymous with choked freeways and heavy traffic, problems that are only bound to get worse. Voters passed the Garcetti-backed Measure M in 2016, which will generate about $3.4 billion every year for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. With all these funds the city has entrusted him and Metro with, he needs to ensure a revitalization of public transport in the city in a timely manner.

Through supporting ballot measures, Garcetti has set up a system in which his actions will have a major impact on the city’s operations. If Garcetti is to achieve his goals, he needs to maintain a significant presence in LA, not on the other side of the country in an air-conditioned room filled with cocktails and politicians.

Garcetti’s success in solving issues like LA’s homelessness crisis would represent a much more meaningful political gesture than shaking hands with Manchester residents. Angelenos’ lives are dependent on how he solves such issues. And even if addressing these doesn’t secure him national electoral victories, he’ll at least have succeeded in his duties as mayor and done what people elected him to do.

Granted, Garcetti has every right to prepare for his political future. And he’s entitled to take a few days off vacationing in the Hamptons. But introducing himself to New Hampshire voters in the hope that it may somehow help him win the Democratic presidential nomination is a waste of time. Garcetti, at 46, is relatively young and has a fair amount of time to build a national image for a potential presidency run.

Right now, though, he needs to focus on his job as LA mayor. The 2020 New Hampshire primary can wait.

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Assistant Opinion editor

Shetty is an assistant Opinion editor. He previously contributed as an opinion columnist for the section and writes about topics including the undergraduate student government and the UCLA administration.

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