WHO WE ARE-The first word that always comes up when people who know him describe Eric Garcetti is “smart,” a quality that has served him well throughout his private school education at Harvard-Westlake, Columbia, Oxford, London School of Economics and in politics where he has as good a pedigree as anyone in LA.
His Wikipedia page lists a great-grandfather Massimo Garcetti, an Italian who became a judge in Mexico whose life ended badly at the end of a rope during the revolution; a maternal grandfather, a Russian immigrant, who founded Louis Roth & Co., a major manufacturer of men’s suits and source of the family’s wealth, and his father Gil who became LA County District Attorney.
Is it any wonder that he became a Councilman at 30 and the first Jewish mayor of the nation’s second largest city at 42, the city’s youngest mayor in a century? Why he could even be President someday if he plays his cards just right!
And therein lies the questions about who Eric Garcetti really is and what else he brings to the table of power besides his smarts and the musical ditties he writes and sings with such great charm.
Is he tough enough, a force to be reckoned with, a man who is up to the challenges of leadership in this troubled city?
Can he tame the hubris of city unions and dominate a City Council entirely made up of professional politicians who have no other know visible means of support besides their offices?
Can he deliver on his back-to-basics slogan while rebuilding the city with towering skyscrapers, turning the LA River into a kayaking paradise, repairing the broken infrastructure, saving the planet from suffocating in its exhaust fumes?
What we have learned from his first year as mayor, according to the mainstream corporate media, is next to nothing of any significance has been achieved or even attempted but nobody is upset about it because he looked good doing little and there’s always this year and the next.
What we have learned from his first year as mayor, according to the powerful city unions, is Garcetti is a patsy – “a person who is easily swindled, deceived, coerced, persuaded, etc.; sucker” and secondarily if things go wrong “a person upon whom the blame for something falls; scapegoat; fall guy.”
Barely a month after taking the oath of office, Garcetti was handed the political opportunity of a lifetime: A new contract with Brian D’Arcy and his IBEW union that required no pay raises until the final year and created a less costly pension plan for new hires.
Smart guy that he is, Garcetti seized the moment to demand major changes in work rules that pay DWP workers overtime for not working, that require two people to do a one-person job, that short-change the public faced with an endless cycle of double digit rate hikes even that have sent bimonthly bills soaring even as consumption of water and power have dropped.
Community groups rallied behind him. He started a petition drive in support of his position. And then the lock-step City Council went to work.
Paul Koretz suggested “there's mostly downsides to continuing [negotiations] and not much upside” considering this is “one of the better contracts we've had historically" – a dead-pan comment that ignored DWP workers are paid roughly a third more than other city workers and workers at other utilities.
Other Council members led by Gil Cedillo, who like most of them was put into office with IBEW and other union money, said the contract showed “generosity” on the part of the union and DWP workers might strike so hearings were needed to consider the impact and how power and water could be kept flowing to four million people.
Garcetti was adamant, insisting that in electing him, despite the $2 million the IBEW spent for Wendy Greuel, spoke clearly what the public sentiment was.
"The voters of Los Angeles have been clear — they want fundamental DWP reform and so do I," Garcetti said.
Twenty-four hours later, after dining with D’Arcy, he surrendered getting only an agreement to “talk” about work rule changes in the future and declared victory.
“Today, the balance of power at the DWP shifts to the people,” said Garcetti at a news conference.
“You delivered a clear mandate for reform in this city and the DWP. You gave me the strongest possible bargaining position for this contract…Nobody questions that this election changed the game. This was unimaginable five months ago."
A month later, the $40 million slush fund scandal was exposed -- $4 million a year in ratepayer money handed to D’Arcy every year for a decade, a deal approved by Garcetti and everyone else, without any accountability, without any record of how it was spent or questions being asked.
Nearly a year later, D’Arcy is still refusing court orders and demands for an independent audit of the books for how the training and safety funds have worked, whether the money was stolen, spent on political campaigns or went for the purposes, questionable as they were.
And now other unions have taken the cue: The mayor is all brain and no power, a patsy they can push around.
The Employee Board ruled Monday that a two-tiered wages and benefits system for new employees imposed on Coalition of City Unions workers in 2012 when Garcetti was Council President was done so illegally without negotiations.
Two weeks earlier, the overwhelming majority of cops voted to reject a new contract that eliminated the two-year-two-tiered system but resumed cash payments for overtime. They want a pay raise.
The promise of these two-tiered systems for wages and benefits was billions of dollars in savings over time that would pay for streets and sidewalks, investment to improve the quality of people’s lives and the long-term financial soundness of the city.
The rejected deal with the Police Protective League shows the intention all along with to just get by a couple of years and then eliminate the second tier and make all city workers equal.
Like so much about Eric Garcetti, it’s all the smooth talk of an idealist, a dreamer when the reality is nothing more than the same old manipulation of the public conversation for the purposes of deceiving a gullible public.
So doesn’t that mean a patsy mayor is the right guy for the job of governing a patsy public?
(Ron Kaye is a lifetime journalist, writer and political observer. He is the former editor of the Daily News and the founder of the Saving LA Project. He writes occasionally for CityWatch and can be reached at [email protected])
Vol 12 Issue 62
Pub: Aug 1, 2014