Eva­sions trig­ger ques­tions

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - STEVE LOPEZ

Washington, D.C., is a long way to schlep for two halfhour meet­ings for the good of Los An­ge­les, but that’s what Mayor Eric Garcetti said he did last week.

It’s pos­si­ble Garcetti has not heard of Skype, Go To-Meet­ing, Facetime, Wig­gio or another dig­i­tal con­nec­tion that could have saved him the has­sle of a cross- coun­try trip.

But I doubt it. Garcetti is a techy guy.

So cynic that I am, I fig­ured there had to be more to the trip back East.

On Mon­day, my col­league Peter Jami­son threw some light on the sub­ject, re­port­ing that the mayor had another piece of busi­ness to tend to in Washington. Namely, a fundraiser for his may­oral re­elec­tion cam­paign — an event that he and his staff had failed to men­tion in ear­lier ex­pla­na­tions.

As I said, I’m a cynic, and it looked to me like the fundraiser might have been the real rea­son for the trip.

Garcetti de­nied that. He said Tues­day on KNX-AM (1070) that he would have can­celed the trip if the fundraiser was the main event.

I hate to be picky here, but if the fundraiser was not the main event, then why did his cam­paign pay for the trip?

That’s the thing about this story. There seem to be more ques­tions than an­swers, and this is get­ting to be a habit. Last month the mayor said a fam­ily com­mit­ment was one rea­son he

skipped a com­mu­nity meet­ing about the po­lice shoot­ing of yet another un­armed man, but that ex­cuse didn’t hold up un­der a mag­ni­fy­ing glass.

In the case of the farflung fundraiser, it doesn’t help that the mayor’s staff was eva­sive when Jami­son asked his ques­tions, telling the re­porter an at­tor­ney would have to re­view the re­quest for more de­tails.

Why? Was there some­thing to hide?

Well, maybe. Garcetti left town with protesters out­side his house, try­ing to block his exit. They were an­gry about the po­lice shoot­ing of an un­armed African Amer­i­can named Ezell Ford, and Garcetti had only made them an­grier with his low public pro­file in the case.

The po­lice chief had de­fended the cops and the Po­lice Com­mis­sion was about to is­sue its find­ings, with the pos­si­bil­ity of trou­ble, depend­ing on the out­come, and one can see the dread on Garcetti’s face in a video of his de­par­ture from his home.

Maybe a part of him was think­ing: You know what, Eric, this may not be the best time to leave the city; use your head, park the Coli­seum-sized SUV and take a minute to talk to the con­stituents who came all the way over to Wind­sor Square to pay you a visit.

Mean­while, another part of him may have been think­ing: Naw, I have bet­ter things to do than stick around and try to pacify rab­ble-rousers.

Well, we know which mayor won the hy­po­thet­i­cal ar­gu­ment: The mayor who is al­ready think­ing about a re­elec­tion cam­paign two years away, even though there’s no ma­jor op­po­nent on the hori­zon.

The mayor told a pro­tester con­cerned about the loss of black lives, “I’m go­ing to D.C … ex­actly for that rea­son. I’m go­ing to the Jus­tice Depart­ment.” He said that if he didn’t make his flight, the city could lose “$15 mil­lion for home­less­ness.”

He ap­par­ently for­got to tell them about the fundraiser.

Now look, I’m en­tirely sup­port­ive of may­oral trips to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal when there’s some­thing to be gained, and Garcetti has enough ties there to get things done. But in this case, I’d like more in­for­ma­tion.

We’re told the mayor spoke to an Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get of­fi­cial about fund­ing for home­less ser­vices, but did he get the $15 mil­lion? We’re also told he spoke to an In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs of­fi­cial about L.A.’s role in the Pres­i­dent’s Task Force on 21st Cen­tury Polic­ing, but what was gained from that chat?

Un­clear, but let’s give the mayor credit be­cause he def­i­nitely brought home some ba­con. From the fundraiser. As Jami­son re­ported, some­where be­tween 40 and 50 at­ten­dees were asked to do­nate $1,400 for two hours with the mayor. Who were they and why would Belt­way folks care who our next mayor is?

That’s not clear yet. And this fol­lows a Hol­ly­wood fundraiser at which the press was banned, which makes it dif­fi­cult for us to know who might ex­pect some­thing in re­turn for their gen­eros­ity.

The Washington soiree makes you won­der if Garcetti is al­ready think­ing be­yond his cur­rent job and be­lieves it’s time to make con­nec­tions that might help him fol­low Dianne Fe­in­stein into the U.S. Se­nate.

Bob Stern, for­merly of Cal­i­for­nia’s Fair Po­lit­i­cal Prac­tices Com­mis­sion, thinks it’s sim­pler than that.

“All politi­cians are deathly afraid of not be­ing re­elected, and they all want to raise lots of money very early on to scare away op­po­nents,” Stern said.

Garcetti wouldn’t be the first politi­cian to throw in a cou­ple of busi­ness meet­ings along with a fundrais­ing trip, Stern said.

But he added that it was “re­ally un­for­tu­nate” that the mayor wasn’t more up­front about his full itin­er­ary.

“He re­ally should just come out and say, ‘Look, I have to raise money for my re­elec­tion, and these peo­ple in Washington wanted to help.”

I sent a volley of ques­tions to the mayor’s of­fice Tues­day. In an email re­sponse, spokesman Jeff Mill­man said “face to face” is al­ways bet­ter, and the mayor was able to “kick start” the process of try­ing to get that $15 mil­lion, even as he mon­i­tored events back home.

Mill­man said no staffers ac­com­pa­nied the mayor, only the mayor’s Los Ange- les Po­lice Depart­ment se­cu­rity de­tail. Let’s hope se­cu­rity used Price­line or Cheap Flights, be­cause you, dear taxpayers, are pick­ing up the tab on that.

But the juici­est tid­bit from Mill­man was that the ini­tial rea­son for Garcetti’s trip to Washington was not city busi­ness.

“He had planned to be in DC for the fundraiser and then worked to set up meet­ings to ben­e­fit Los An­ge­les that day. When we were able to con­firm those high-level meet­ings … they then be­came pri­or­ity....”

We al­ready knew the cam­paign fi­nance sys­tem was a twisted and cor­rupt­ing force at ev­ery level of pol­i­tics, but leav­ing the helm at a crit­i­cal time for a one-day round-trip money grab on the other side of the con­ti­nent boldly punc­tu­ates the point.

There is noth­ing illegal in any of this, and ul­ti­mately the mayor will be judged on big­ger is­sues. Can he make the city safe, cre­ate more af­ford­able hous­ing, draw more liv­ing-wage jobs and of­fer some traf­fic so­lu­tions?

But on the big stuff and the lit­tle stuff, you can avoid a lot of trou­ble by remembering what your mother taught you:

Al­ways tell the truth, the whole truth and noth­ing but the truth.

The al­ter­na­tives are guar­an­teed to make head­lines.

Black Lives Mat­ter Los An­ge­les

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI ex­plains to protesters on June 8 why he has to go to Washington on the eve of the Po­lice Com­mis­sion re­view of the Ezell Ford shoot­ing.

Francine Orr Los An­ge­les Times

JAS­MINE RICHARDS, 28, right, prays dur­ing a Black Lives Mat­ter protest in front of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home in Wind­sor Square on June 7.

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