After Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s April 14 visit to Iowa, his run for the 2020 U.S. presidency is all but assured. By any measure, Garcetti’s policy choices and leadership would be a vast improvement from the current administration. However, abandoning the people of Los Angeles to climb the political ladder in a climate he is unequipped for would be a disservice to Los Angeles citizens and a desertion of his values.
To be sure, a Garcetti presidency is unlikely, to say the least. However, recent elections show that odds are a surmountable obstacle. Garcetti winning the presidency would be a first in many ways. He would be the first Jewish and Mexican president. He would also be the first president ever to be elected directly from the position of mayor. However, a collection of firsts alone does not make a successful president. Although it is tempting to place these firsts at the center of Garcetti’s run for president, we cannot lose sight of his crucial shortcomings as a candidate that would define his presidency.
Any 2020 presidential candidate would face a number of issues. But among these is a single critical problem; unifying a polarized nation. As we analyze each presidential candidate, we must ask if they can unify this country. As little as we can afford four more years of a demagogue, the United States cannot afford a president who lacks the ability to unify.
Garcetti has never faced a problem of unification on the scale of the one our nation faces today. He has served as mayor for a mere five years in a city so strongly Democratic that Hillary Clinton voters outnumbered Donald Trump voters 3-to-1 in the 2016 election. Asking a mayor with such limited accomplishments at the local level to bring the whole nation together is like asking a first-year student to write their doctoral thesis.
To be sure, progress occurs through small actionable steps, and Garcetti, as mayor of Los Angeles, is in an ideal place to take those steps. In general, local government touches the lives of residents more directly than Washington. Garcetti’s Mobility 2035 plan to decongest Los Angeles area traffic will, for instance, create protected bike lanes and faster bus service. In addition, Garcetti recently won approval for linkage fees on development to raise money for affordable housing.
Garcetti’s work in Los Angeles is also far from over. Since he took office in 2013, the homeless population has increased every year. It’s now up 49 percent. The gravity of this issue is apparent to any Angeleno who has been to Skid Row. In addition, Los Angeles has the seventh highest level of economic inequality of the United States’ 150 most populous metro areas. Garcetti has an obligation to his country, but that obligation is not in the District of Columbia. It is to the residents of Los Angeles.
One argument that Garcetti will likely make in his potential presidential campaign is that he can better satisfy the needs of Los Angeles on a national stage. Not only is this a patently false justification for a political climb, it contradicts some of Garcetti’s central beliefs. To understand where Garcetti’s apparent values lie, look no further than California’s 2018 gubernatorial election. In October 2017, when Garcetti announced that he would not be running for Governor of California, he mentioned his unfinished work in Los Angeles.
“We have a lot of work left to do to build a stronger city, state and nation and I know I can best build on our progress here in LA,” Garcetti said.
In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Garcetti emphasized his value of supporting local governance.
“Local communities are what make this country great, and they are the laboratories of democracy,” Garcetti said.
If Garcetti truly believes in the value of local governance and cares about his unfinished work in Los Angeles, he will not turn his back on Los Angeles residents in the coming election cycle.
If the Trump presidency has made anything apparent, it is that a track record of continued dedication to public service should be a central consideration in one’s candidacy. Garcetti does not have that track record. In the unlikely event that Garcetti wins both the democratic party’s nomination and the general election, I hope that I am wrong. I hope Garcetti becomes the unifying figure our nation needs. I hope he advances the ideals he claims to stand for on a national level. However, his five years as mayor do not make me optimistic.
Garcetti has a character-defining choice. Either he can live by his word and serve the community that he claims is central to his life as a politician, continuing to improve government at a local level, or he can turn his back on the people of Los Angeles to climb a political ladder he is not yet ready for.
Owen Keith is a first year Politics and Computer Science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.