A lofty goal for any mayor

No one has ever gone straight from City Hall to White House. Will Garcetti try?

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Mark Z. Barabak

There are many paths to the pres­i­dency, most of them a stan­dard climb from one elected of­fice to the next.

A whole pas­sel of law­mak­ers have cy­cled their way through a gov­er­nor­ship or the U.S. Sen­ate en route to the White House. Oth­ers ar­rived with less but­toned­down back­grounds. There have been war he­roes, a for­mer hab­er­dasher, a one­time movie ac­tor.

And then, of course, there is the cur­rent oc­cu­pant whose re­sume — real es­tate de­vel­oper, beauty pageant pro­moter, con­spir­acy mon­ger, re­al­ity TV celebrity — com­prises a cat­e­gory all its own.

In the his­tory of the United States, how­ever, there has never been a can­di­date who made the leap straight from City Hall to the White House, or who even man­aged to win his party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

Sev­eral may­ors have tried, some more plau­si­bly than oth­ers. New York’s Ru­dolph Gi­u­liani — a na­tional hero af­ter 9/11 — was, for a time, the front-runner for the 2008 Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion un­til his po­lit­i­cal in­ep­ti­tude cratered his can­di­dacy.

Irvine’s Larry Agran man­aged to squeeze into a few photo ops with the rest of the 1992 Demo­cratic field be­fore the race grew se­ri­ous and he was ban­ished to the ranks of po­lit­i­cal trivia and a list of oth­er­wise-for­got­ten

ri­vals van­quished by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clin­ton.

Now Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti is men­tioned as a White House prospect, fresh off his in­au­gu­ra­tion to a sec­ond term. He in­sists that more than 250 years of un­bro­ken may­oral fu­til­ity are no de­ter­rent.

“I think all the rules are off,” he told a Wis­con­sin TV in­ter­viewer dur­ing a June visit to the Mid­west­ern swing state. “No African Amer­i­can could be pres­i­dent un­til one was. No re­al­ity star could be pres­i­dent un­til one is.” True, and true. First, though, a dis­claimer: Although Garcetti is mak­ing the moves of a White House hope­ful — chat­ting up Demo­cratic donors and na­tional po­lit­i­cal re­porters; show­ing up at high-brow pol­icy fo­rums; vis­it­ing New Hampshire, the first pri­mary state — he re­mains pub­licly coy about a run in 2020.

He might even make a rel­a­tively late en­try into the 2018 Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor’s race.

“He wants to play a role in the na­tional po­lit­i­cal de­bate and wants to be ac­tive in the de­bate within the Demo­cratic Party,” said Bill Car­rick, a long­time Garcetti po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor.

In the mean­time, “I’m much more fo­cused on to­day, my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in L.A., than plot­ting my po­lit­i­cal fu­ture,” the mayor said in a hey-look-me-over stop this week at the Sacra­mento Press Club.

Con­spic­u­ously, how­ever, he won’t com­mit to serv­ing out his full term.

There is a case to be made that the job of big-city mayor, with its daily, hand­son de­mands, of­fers bet­ter train­ing for the White House than, say, be­ing one of 100 mem­bers of a U.S. Sen­ate most no­table th­ese days for ac­com­plish­ing close to noth­ing.

The pop­u­la­tion of Los An­ge­les, about 4 mil­lion, tops that of nearly half the states, and the city’s $9-bil­lion bud­get is larger than those of Iowa, Mis­sis­sippi and Idaho, among oth­ers.

Few jobs in pol­i­tics in­sin­u­ate an of­fice­holder so im­me­di­ately into the lives of his or her con­stituents, whether deal­ing with lo­cal class­rooms, pot­holes or the fall­out from a mass shoot­ing or nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. “A mayor has to be both an ex­ec­u­tive and a mi­cro­man­ager,” said Jes­sica Troun­stine, an ex­pert on ur­ban pol­i­tics at UC Merced.

The prob­lem, po­lit­i­cally, is the stigma many as­so­ci­ate with big cities: cor­rup­tion, crime, per­mis­sive lib­er­al­ism and, not least, a siz­able mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion that not ev­ery­one cel­e­brates as a sign of vi­brancy and wel­come di­ver­sity. That makes it tough for a mayor try­ing to ap­peal to ru­ral and sub­ur­ban vot­ers, who may avoid city life pre­cisely be­cause of its per­ceived ills.

“Our geo­graphic di­vi­sions are over­laid with our po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions” — the whole red-ver­sus-blue map thing — “in a very clear way,” Troun­stine said.

The sen­ti­ment, while thor­oughly mod­ern, is hardly new.

“I view great cities as pesti­len­tial to the morals, the health and the lib­er­ties of man,” wrote Thomas Jef­fer­son, who cel­e­brated the yeo­man farmer as the Amer­i­can ideal. “The mobs of great cities add just so much to sup­port of pure govern­ment as sores do to the strength of the hu­man body.” Ick. An­other hur­dle for any mayor seek­ing higher of­fice — a gov­er­nor­ship, a U.S. Sen­ate seat or, most es­pe­cially, the White House — is start­ing with a rel­a­tively small base and the need to forge po­lit­i­cal al­liances that may not play well beyond the city lim­its

“In many cities you need strong union back­ing. In many in­stances you need strong back­ing from the black com­mu­nity, or Latino or im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties,” said Daniel Hop­kins, who teaches at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on race and pol­i­tics at the lo­cal level. “Run­ning that gant­let of­ten leaves politi­cians per­ceived in cer­tain ways that make it tough for them to ap­peal on a na­tional stage.”

None of which au­to­mat­i­cally dis­qual­i­fies Garcetti should he take a huge leap and try for the White House. Pres­i­dent Trump’s im­prob­a­ble elec­tion doubt­less gives heart to ev­ery un­der­dog, long-shot and bar­rier-break­ing can­di­date, what­ever their prove­nance.

Still, it’s good to have a day job.

Gary Coron­ado Los An­ge­les Times

MAYOR Eric Garcetti is viewed as a White House prospect, fresh off his in­au­gu­ra­tion to a sec­ond term.

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