Eric Garcetti may not have had President Barack Obama’s endorsement, but Obama’s efficient operation helped Garcetti become mayor. Garcetti had significant support from Obama’s GOTV team and the president’s fundraising base. David Axelrod did three events for Garcetti in Los Angeles 10 days ago, speaking in glowing terms about the mayor-to-be, noting at each stop that Garcetti and his team showed up in New Hampshire and other battleground states for the president.
The White House doors will be wide open to Garcetti as the new mayor makes the rounds seeking support for the city.
Garcetti’s star will be rising in the Democratic and mainstream media skies. The speculation about his future will begin. Is he the Democrat’s answer to Marco Rubio? Future governor? US senator? Vice-president?
The short-term losers in this election were the Bill (and Hillary) Clinton forces, the LA County labor federation, traditional feminists, and important figures like Dolores Huerta, Maxine Waters, and Gloria Molina. Because of LA’s twisted low turnout voter patterns, the far more progressive candidate, Garcetti, won because of white majorities on the Westside, West Valley, and the downtown Obama generation voters.
Garcetti won because of neighborhood leaders like Sandy Brown – affluent, older, frustrated and anti-establishment. Brown, who lives with her husband in Westwood, is a local activist who knows more about zoning, development, traffic and services in her district than virtually any member of the City Council. Although pro-property values and pro-business, people like Brown are increasingly forced to throw themselves against the squeaky wheels of commercial over-development. They have not forgotten all their youthful dreams. (Disclosure: Brown, originally from Cincinnati, once served as my senate district chief of staff.)
Brown chaired a huge Westside homeowners’ debate recently between Garcetti and Greuel, and came away thinking that Greuel’s handlers were either afraid of having the debate or completely disorganized. Garcetti easily won the debate, reinforcing his support among the hundreds who attended and the many more who follow such events closely by word of mouth.
Unless LA switches its mayoral elections to even-numbered years, which would push up the number of renter and inner city voters, homeowners like Brown will be an essential factor to any progressive coalition in LA. According to Los Angeles Times projections, 51 percent of LA voters were white, 24 percent Latino, and 12 percent African American, producing an electorate potentially far more conservative than the LA population as a whole. In the mayoral primary, the Times reported that the Westside and West Valley tripled the turnout of South LA.
While many of these whites cluster in isolated gated communities and support a narrow pro-development Valley agenda, the large numbers of Sandy Brown voters are hardly conservative anti-tax ideologues or closeted Tea Party sympathizers. Brown herself once was arrested in a demonstration supporting immigrant hotel workers seeking to unionize. Others like the actress Mimi Kennedy, chair of Progressive Democrats of America, throw fundraisers in the Valley with the likes of Jim Hightower and John Nichols.
The point is that when Wendy Greuel campaigned as a “Valley Girl” she was not speaking for the whole white western region of LA, where many progressives live in leafy facades of conservative comfort. When Garcetti attacked Greuel for taking millions from the DWP union, he was appealing to a voter sense of populist rage against endemic government corruption, not trying to revive the anti-union spirit of the Chandler family on which LA was built.
Where Garcetti goes from here is momentarily upward – television interviews, magazine covers – before his handlers guide his approach back to the mundane mess at City Hall. How will he try to reconcile with labor leaders used to having their way? Will he have to emulate Jerry Brown in showing voters that he is really a fiscal conservative? Will he blow the whistle on the scandalous boondoggle known as the 405 expansion project? Will he appoint MTA board members to protect the bus-riding poor? Will he increase the monitoring and reform of the LAPD now that the federal consent decree has been lifted? Will he launch pro-democracy reforms that empower neighborhood organizations like Sandy Brown’s? Will he try a new initiative on campaign finance reform and disclosure? (LA voters passed Proposition C, rebuking Citizens United by 76 percent.)
It is possible that Garcetti simply floats for the next few months on a great cloud of good will with a helping hand from the White House. But soon he will have to tackle the thorny work of reforming LA in a more democratic, equitable and sustainable direction, or risk becoming mired in the status quo. He will have to choose a broad progressive issue – climate change, immigrant rights – to succeed in appealing to California’s Democratic primary voters in an election somewhere inevitably down the road. His next journey begins now.