The votes are in and Los Angeles has spoken: We chose Councilman Eric Garcetti to be our next mayor. And we chose him overwhelmingly, with 54% of the vote.
Fifty four percent. An impressive number. A “mandate,” almost.
What about 19%?
That’s the actual percentage of eligible voters who bothered to show up to the polls, meaning that Garcetti has just been elected mayor of the second largest city in the country with the approval of a little more than 10% of that city’s eligible voters.
In any case, though, Garcetti isn’t so bad, though neither was his opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel. Both liberal Democrats with extensive experience in city government, their voting records and positions on issues were, in pretty much every way, identical: education is good; poverty is bad; get jobs for people; make sure there are cops around; build stuff.
Some scary, radical, Marxist BS
Good-looking, youngish, insanely well-educated, Spanish-speaking, a Navy reservist, and otherwise practically perfect in every way, Garcetti is like every person you hate on Facebook for their success rolled into one. He’s got it going on, even though you don’t really know what he’s got going on, because there’s really no indication of actual policies. Or, maybe there are indications of actual policies, but nothing to really make policy about.
You see, unlike Bloomberg I, King of New York, Conqueror of the Big Gulp, or Rahm I, Emperor of Chicago, Conqueror of the Plie, Mayor Garcetti will be like Richard II, king only of his own cares. Los Angeles is a city run by a strong city council, and the mayor has no control over the schools, the health care system, or redevelopment efforts. He can cajole, he can entreat, he can represent and build alliances among stakeholders, but the Mayor of Los Angeles doesn’t command. Consequently, unlike Mike Bloomberg, he can’t ban everything and wave a magic wand and open 80 schools. Neither, like Rahm Emanuel, can he close schools.
Recognizing these limitations, especially over the schools, will be key for Garcetti moving forward. Outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa struggled, throughout his eight years in office, with the simple fact that LA is not New York and Chicago. His failed attempt to gain control over the Los Angeles Unified School District is evidence of that.
In other ways, though, the job can be influential, as Villaraigosa has occasionally demonstrated. As mayor, he’s been given powers to directly take control over select, failing Los Angeles schools, has lobbied hard against assault weapons and instituted his own gun buyback program, and has helped to secure funding for a Westside subway extension plan that should have been executed fifty years ago.
Villaraigosa has also spent most of his time on his favorite pet project — himself — which is shocking, because most American politicians are paragons of selflessness. It’s perhaps a signature accomplishment of the current mayor, though, that he stands out even among his fellow politicians for being a career-driven, shameless self-promoter with his eyes on higher, statewide or national office.
Whether Eric Garcetti harbors similar ambitions (given his background, it seems likely), or whether he’ll be content with just Ls Angeles, it might be helpful for him to toe a different line than either Bloomberg or Villaraigosa: neither lusting after power he doesn’t have, nor taking the job’s relative lack of direct influence as an excuse to spend his time puffing up his own image for a gubernatorial run.
If he does that, then maybe Mr. Perfect will become Mayor Perfect.