Commentary: Another tale of two cities
LOS ANGELES — The tremors may have had morning TV anchors diving under the desk, but it takes more than a 4.4 quiver to rattle Eric Garcetti.
“I don’t lose my head,” said the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, who was in bed with his wife, Amy Wakeland, when the earthquake struck at dawn Monday. “I’ve always kind of enjoyed the small ones. The small ones are kind of fun.”
He said dryly that it was 10 minutes before they remembered to check on their 2-year-old daughter. He did check in with “Earthquake Lucy,” as he calls seismologist Lucy Jones, an expert on loan from the U.S. Geological Survey, who told him that it was a new fault line under the Santa Monica Mountains and that there was only a 5 percent chance that it would usher in a bigger quake later that day.
Garcetti was so unconcerned that he went to Tom Bergin’s pub for St. Paddy’s Day and played bartender for two hours, even though Irish is the one ethnicity he’s not, and he ended up with a bit of a hangover.
There was some grumbling that the mayor was too invisible Monday morning, that he should have used the shake to shake people out of the complacency that has set in since the $42 billion, magnitude 6.7 quake in Northridge that left 57 dead in 1994.
Critics say that City Hall has its own version of “Where’s Waldo?” called “Anyone Seen Eric?”
“He’s so low profile,” said one TV writer. “He’s harder to find than Flight 370.”
The doubters concede that the 43-year-old former city councilman and son of Gil Garcetti, the O.J. prosecutor, is bright, charming and multifaceted: a salsa-dancing, jazz-piano-playing Rhodes Scholar who grew up in the Valley in a Brady Bunch world, mingling Jewish, Italian and Mexican heritage. (“The guilt must cancel out,” the mayor laughs, “because I live my life with very little guilt.”)
Critics say that Garcetti’s most vivid move in office so far — working for one day at a red metal table in a parking lot in Boyle Heights, a Latino neighborhood — was a stunt that only a high school class president would deem clever.
The soft-spoken Garcetti did speak out about the earthquake, warning Angelenos to be more vigilant, including at a breakfast interview sponsored by Los Angeles Magazine on Tuesday; he just did it in what he calls his “calm and grounded” way. He is confident that his “back-to-basics” approach is reaping benefits, despite criticism in L.A. Weekly last month that he’s off to a slow start and struggling to find an agenda. He says he wants to be “humble” as he helps the city restore its “hustle,” and, to that end, he recently made a cup of coffee for a startled Chinese construction mogul who could bring business here.
He has been a stark contrast to New York’s new Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio, who has been highly visible but abrasive and obsessive about one cause: funding a pre-K program by taxing the wealthy. While de Blasio came to power belittling Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, Garcetti went to Manhattan before he was sworn in eight months ago to seek out Bloomberg’s advice.
“I pull some of the metric-based leadership from Bloomberg,” he said, during an interview at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, in a room covered in Spanish tile that served as the first locale for a fledgling little event called the Academy Awards. But he stressed that he also thinks it’s really important “to connect emotionally.”
While de Blasio has been publicly battling Gov. Andrew Cuomo on raising taxes and closing charter schools, Garcetti has been quietly and amiably working with Gov. Jerry Brown on climate change and on providing tax inducements that would stem the exodus of film and TV production companies to Louisiana and Canada.
Garcetti recalled that Brown told him over dinner, “You only have a few chances to really communicate. Don’t waste them.”
“I’m not that interested in a bunch of flash early on,” Garcetti said, noting that you have to build a team, figure out your style and “find a narrative for your city.”
While de Blasio is seen as a captive of unions and foe of business, Garcetti has pushed back against the powerful public works employees’ union and reached out to business.
“He’s much more of a Bloomberg mayor than a de Blasio mayor,” said one prominent CEO here. “He clearly understands the need to partner with us and not bash us.”
The grand hope of liberals that de Blasio would turn New York into a lab for populist government theories has faded, as that stumbling mayor’s disapproval rating has more than doubled since January.
Ben White and Maggie Haberman wrote Tuesday in Politico that there is a determined backlash by the 1 percent against class-based appeals on income inequality and soaking the rich, dubbed the ineffective “politics of envy” by Larry Summers.
Garcetti says he empathizes with de Blasio on the steep learning curve at a breathless pace and is glad he has no “snow politics.”
“I share Bill’s sense of social justice in urban centers, but I realize that the job of mayor is to fix things,” he said. “We’re not running for president. We’re not writing self-help books. We are people who first and foremost have to take care of the basics.”
He said that he and de Blasio both have to get used to being chief executives. So far, Garcetti likes it.
“It feels like you had on an off-the-rack suit,” he said, smiling, “and then you get a custom-made one.”