Mag profile: Garcetti 'remains fundamentally unknowable'

Garcetti-la-mag.jpgLos Angeles Magazine photo.

Los Angeles Magazine contributor Gabriel Kahn has been working on a midstream profile of Mayor Eric Garcetti for some time, and it landed online Wednesday. Kahn concludes that Garcetti has a mixed record in his first term as mayor and, as he heads into his reelection campaign, a fundamentally mixed hold on the city's hearts. "People see what he backs as a politician, but they don’t see what he’s willing to fight for," Kahn writes. "And they aren’t sure what drives him, whether he is more about ambition, using L.A. as a stepping-stone, or about a sense of mission to shape a better city."

This is nowhere near as harsh a conclusion as when the same magazine (different writer, different editor) declared the midstream Antonio Villaraigosa a "failure" in a much-talked-about 2009 cover story, later reexamined and revised. Still, Kahn argues that the complexities in Garcetti's nature &dmash; he has aspirations for the city and his programs but eschews confrontation, even with ex-rivals and department heads — don't provide him as strong as base to run for, say, governor or senator, as he might otherwise have. Lack of visible progress on the homeless is also an issue.

A sample:

He’s too smart to seem a lightweight, despite being almost perpetually sunny. He has the sheen of a politician but not much of the oiliness. Where other politicians walk around your policy questions, Garcetti answers them. In detail. Yet there remains the question of what drives the guy, what he’d really go to the mat for. The answer has a lot to do with the future of L.A....

As we pull out of Watts and move onto the 110 freeway, the downtown skyline rises before us and the reddish glow of the setting sun reflects off the glass skyscrapers. Garcetti says at some point, “What I think the average person wants is not a fight; they want to see something move forward in their own neighborhood.” By lining up against something, he acknowledges, his predecessor made it easier for voters to understand what he was for, even if his actions produced scant results. Many of Garcetti’s big plans had languished under previous administrations. But whether it was the river, or getting rail to the airport, most of them enjoyed popular support. He hasn’t tried to move the public in a direction it was reluctant to go, but he’ll have to if he wants to find the money to make those projects a reality while also cleaning up government and housing the homeless.

The Yukon lurches into the fast lane, and I ask what he might have done differently in his first term. “I don’t live life with a ton of regrets,” he says. “I think in a couple areas I could have laid out vision more quickly. In some areas with staff, I realized, they’re actually waiting for me to just tell them. And that’s what I was elected to do.”

It’s a frank assessment, one that doesn’t apply just to his staff.

The question is whether a second term will enable Garcetti to lay out a clearer vision from the start and to act on it—even if it means making some enemies along the way. That’s assuming he even sticks around.

Garcetti hedges on whether he will look toward one of the statewide offices open in 2018, less than a year after his reelection campaign will end.

Among those quoted in the piece are USC's Dan Schnur, former Garcetti spokesman Josh Kamensky, Friends of the LA River founder Lewis MacAdams, former deputy mayor Torie Osborn and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Gary Toebben, CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, is included as an example of those who argue that Garcetti's tendency to mend fences "leads to indecision and undercuts his ability to force change. Says Toebben: "One of the reasons we didn’t support him in the business community is that he can’t make tough decisions. It almost pains him.”

Looks like a couple of dropped or misplaced paragraphs, but otherwise it seems to all be there.

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Garcetti stories on LA Observed:
Green New Deal
Garcetti and Koreatown's homeless
Mayor's State of the City
Candidate Garcetti returns from Iowa to give State of the City
Garcetti urged to consider a Latino for police chief
Garcetti wants all L.A. to welcome homeless housing
Housing-homeless up to Garcetti, Ridley-Thomas
Vicente Fox and Mayor Garcetti