On high pro­file events, mayor low key

Garcetti’s re­sponse to po­lice shoot­ings irks crit­ics, but back­ers say he’s fo­cused on pol­icy re­form, not the pul­pit.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Jami­son

Mayor Eric Garcetti met with Ezell Ford’s mother at First AME Church. It was a his­tor­i­cally res­o­nant set­ting for a talk about Ford, a men­tally ill black man killed by po­lice. Founded in the late 19th cen­tury by some of Los An­ge­les’ ear­li­est black res­i­dents, the church stands amid streets laid waste in ri­ots that fol­lowed the1992 ac­quit­tal of the of­fi­cers who beat Rod­ney King.

“It was a re­ally beau­ti­ful meet­ing be­tween the two of us, I think,” the mayor told re­porters on Tues­day af­ter speak­ing with Tri­to­bia Ford. “She was able to just talk about what it felt like to­have lost her son and her quest for jus­tice for him.”

Ford later gave her own ver­dict on her time with L.A.’s top elected of­fi­cial: While she was grate­ful for the mayor’s ef­fort, she said, the meet­ing came “10 months late.” Her son was shot to death by of­fi­cers in South L.A. last sum­mer. Only af­ter she crit­i­cized Garcetti on tele­vi­sion last week­end for his inat­ten­tion tothe case had he per­son­ally reached out to her.

The en­counter in­side First AME was char­ac­ter­is­tic of Garcetti’s chal­lenges in re­cen­tweeks, as he has tried to cal­i­brate his re­ac­tions to two high-pro­file po­lice shoot­ings of young black men.

The mayor is known for us­ing his bully pul­pit as leader of Amer­ica’s sec­ond­largest city with more re­straint than some of his out­spo­ken pre­de­ces­sors. His sup­port­ers say he es­chews pub­lic­ity for the more mean­ing­ful work of craft­ing pol­icy and back-chan­nel coali­tion build­ing.

But at a time when of­fi­cers’ killings of young black men have tested big-city may­ors across the coun­try, some ques­tion how wel lGarcetti’s low-key style can be adapted to the com­bustible pol­i­tics of race and polic­ing.

Last month, one of the city’s top home­less ser­vices of­fi­cials faulted the mayor, along with LAPD Chief Char­lie Beck, for not show­ing up at an emo­tion­ally charged com­mu­nity meet­ing called in re­sponse to the fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing of Bren­don Glenn, an un­armed 29year-old who lived on the streets in Venice.

“Where is the mayor? Where is the chief of po­lice?” Los An­ge­les Home­less Ser­vices Author­ity Com­mis­sioner Mike Neely said at the meet­ing. “I don’t think they re­al­ize this per­son was some­one peo­ple re­ally cared about.”

Last week, on the eve of the city Po­lice Com­mis­sion’s rul­ing on whether deadly force was jus­ti­fied in the Ford case, the mayor flew to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. With a small group of demon­stra­tors en­camped out­side Getty House, the may­oral res­i­dence, Garcetti tried to leave through a back en­trance. He was con­fronted by ac­tivists who shouted at him as he peered out the pas­sen­ger win­dow of a black SUV.

“You al­ways run,” one pro­tester said. The episode was caught on video and broad­cast on the nightly news.

Other ur­ban lead­ers haven’t nec­es­sar­ily fared well with a more hands-on ap­proach.

New York City Mayor Bill de Bla­sio alien­ated his po­lice force with his force­ful ex­pres­sions of sym­pa­thy for Eric Gar­ner, an un­armed black man who died af­ter an of­fi­cer put him in a choke­hold. Bal­ti­more State’s Atty. Mar­i­lyn Mosby was at­tacked for po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunism when she swiftly filed charges against six of­fi­cers al­legedly in­volved in the death of Fred­die Gray.

Garcetti, ac­cord­ing to some long­time ob­servers of L.A.’s po­lit­i­cal scene, risks erring in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

In a city with a smol­der­ing le­gacy of civil un­rest, vot­ers pre­fer may­ors who can sum­mon a com­mand­ing pres­ence in times of trou­ble, said vet­eran Demo­cratic strate­gist Darry Sragow.

For­mer May­ors An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa and Richard Rior­dan were some­times chided for hog­ging the spot­light, but were re­warded with sec­ond terms in of­fice.

“It’s ob­vi­ous that L.A. is a very big and com­pli­cated place, and there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion on the part of the peo­ple who live in the city that the mayor is go­ing to play a vis­i­ble role and have a guiding hand,” Sragow said. “This is a city with a lot of un­der­ly­ing ten­sions and prob­lems that could rise to the sur­face with­out that kind of strong hand.”

Arnie Stein­berg, a for­mer Rior­dan ad­vi­sor, said Garcetti’s on-cam­era en­counter with the pro­test­ers out­side his home showed that he had not yet mas­tered the art of pro­ject­ing strength in mo­ments of con­tro­versy.

“It’s a coun­ter­pro­duc­tive vis­ual to be seen as eva­sive and not con­fronting things forthrightly,” Stein­berg said.

Fer­nando Guerra, a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Los An­ge­les at Loyola Mary­mount Uni­ver­sity, took a dif­fer­ent view of the mayor’s low­pro­file. He said he didn’t think Garcetti was too de­tached from the Glenn and Ford shoot­ings, but had wisely fo­cused on pol­icy re­forms — such as equip­ping all of­fi­cers with body cam­eras and in­creas­ing fund­ing for com­mu­nity polic­ing pro­grams — to ad­dress the po­lice depart­ment’s un­der­ly­ing prob­lems.

“You could spend all four years, ev­ery sin­gle day, re­act­ing to events in Los An­ge­les, and not get a sin­gle thing done,” Guerra said. “I think he’s got a sys­tem­atic ap­proach to public safety. He’s way ahead of most po­lice de­part­ments with body cam­eras. He’s way ahead of most po­lice de­part­ments with com­mu­nity re­la­tions.”

On Tues­day, af­ter the po­lice com­mis­sion ruled that one of the two of­fi­cers who shot Ezell Ford was not jus­ti­fied in us­ing deadly force, Garcetti ad­dressed crit­i­cism of his per­ceived lack of fo­cus on the case.

The mayor, whose fa­ther served for eight years as L.A.’s elected dis­trict at­tor­ney, said he had not wanted to ex­ert in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­flu­ence over the civil­ian panel’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

“Short of an ex­plo­sive sit­u­a­tion in this city where I think it is my re­spon­si­bil­ity to speak out,” he said, “I’m the son of a pros­e­cu­tor, and I’m go­ing to let that sys­tem work and make sure that it is as clean as pos­si­ble.”

Garcetti has some­times taken an ac­tive role in the city’s re­sponses to po­lice shoot­ings. When LAPD of­fi­cials were ac­cused of drag­ging their feet on re­leas­ing Ford’s au­topsy sev­eral months af­ter the Au­gust shoot­ing, the­mayor or­dered them to dis­close the re­port by the end of the year.

He has also cited the other in­evitable de­mands— both pro­fes­sional and per­sonal — on a mayor’s time. When he was asked on KNX-1070 ra­dio why he had been a no-show at the May 7 Venice com­mu­nity meet­ing on Glenn’s death, which be­gan at 6 p.m. and lasted about three hours, Garcetti said he had “pre­vi­ous com­mit­ments, and a fam­ily en­gage­ment that I could not break.”

He added, “That’s some­thing as a fa­ther I won’t do in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions.”

His cal­en­dar, re­leased by the mayor’s of­fice in re­sponse to a re­quest fromthe Los An­ge­les Times, pro--

vided more de­tails about his ac­tiv­i­ties that night. As res­i­dents and ac­tivists were shout­ing down a deputy po­lice chief in Venice, Garcetti was hold­ing a cock­tail re­cep­tion for the Los An­ge­les Con­sular Corps at Getty House, then at­tend­ing the open­ing of Riot Games, an on­line gam­ing com­pany that had re­lo­cated to L.A.

Of­fi­cials who were at both events con­firmed that the mayor at­tended. A spokesman for Riot Games said Garcetti ar­rived just be­fore 8 p.m. and stayed for about an hour. The townhall meet­ing in Venice con­cluded shortly af­ter 9 p.m.

In a brief in­ter­view last week, Garcetti said he had “a real, truth­ful obli­ga­tion” re­lated to his fam­ily, but ac­knowl­edged that it fell later in the night. He de­clined to spec­ify on the record what it was, cit­ing his fam­ily’s pri­vacy. (The mayor and his wife, Amy Wake­land, have a young daugh­ter and in the past have cared for foster chil­dren.)

Asked why he cited a fam­ily com­mit­ment that did not ap­pear to take place at the same time as the Venice meet­ing as a rea­son for his ab­sence, the mayor said the fam­ily obli­ga­tion was “the fi­nal piece” of his sched­ul­ing con­flict and that the re­cep­tion for diplo­mats and the video-game com­pany event were “com­mit­ments that I could not miss and would not have missed.”

He said he might not have cho­sen to at­tend the town hall gath­er­ing on Glenn’s killing any­way.

“I don’t know that I nec­es­sar­ily would have gone to that meet­ing,” Garcetti said. “In ret­ro­spect, and talk­ing to folks that were at that meet­ing, it wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily a pro­duc­tive or lis­ten­ing meet­ing.”

The mayor has also en­coun­tered con­cerns about his level of in­volve­ment in the Ford shoot­ing.

Last Sun­day, with the Po­lice Com­mis­sion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion on the case two days away, Ford’s mother ex­pressed ex­as­per­a­tion with Garcetti’s dis­en­gage­ment in an in­ter­view with KABC-TV. That night, the mayor tele­phoned her. His staff said he was un­able to reach her, but left mes­sages. (May­oral aides did not fi­nal­ize his meet­ing with Ford un­til Tues­day af­ter­noon.)

Garcetti spent Mon­day in Wash­ing­ton, where he said he met with White House of­fi­cials about po­ten­tial fed­eral fund­ing for city pro­grams. He re­turned to L.A. on an overnight flight. While he was gone, may­oral staffers tried to reach out to com­mu­nity lead­ers in South L.A.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, pres­i­dent of the Los An­ge­les Ur­ban Pol­icy Round­table, said one of the­mayor’s aides called him Mon­day to ask whether he could par­tic­i­pate in a meet­ing with Garcetti and other black com­mu­nity lead­ers the next day in ad­vance of the Po­lice Com­mis­sion’s rul­ing. Hutchinson said he agreed and was told the mayor’s of­fice would fol­low up with de­tails.

Hutchinson saidhe never heard back, and the­meet­ing never ma­te­ri­al­ized. In­stead, he said, Garcetti called him Tues­day morn­ing and ex­pressed his con­fi­dence that the panel would reach an ap­pro­pri­ate de­ci­sion.

Hutchinson said the mayor has reg­u­larly been in con­tact with him dur­ing the last two years about is­sues of im­por­tance to the city’s black lead­ers, an ef­fort for which he said Garcetti de­serves “a lot of credit.”

He also said phone calls are no sub­sti­tute for face-to­face re­as­sur­ance.

“It’s al­most like a gen­eral: The good ones, they’re out front. They’re not in the line of fire, but the troops can see them,” Hutchinson said. “It can­not be done on the tele­phone. It can­not be done on the In­ter­net. It can­not be done by car­rier pi­geon. You have to be there.”

Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI is known for show­ing more re­straint in the use of his bully pul­pit as leader of Los An­ge­les than some of his out­spo­ken pre­de­ces­sors.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

CAR­RIE LEILAM LOVE places a rose on an al­tar set up out­side Mayor Eric Garcetti’s res­i­dence dur­ing a protest over the case of Ezell Ford.

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