Pity Mayor Eric Garcetti. Judging from the news coverage, Bill de Blasio of New York, inaugurated on New Year’s Day, is now America’s most famous mayor. But what is happening to the mayor of the second most populous city, toiling away for months with dwindling attention from the news media?
Maybe Mayor Garcetti likes it that way. As Rick Orlov wrote in the Daily News last month, “In his first six months in office, Mayor Eric Garcetti has brought a low-key cool to the job that presents a sharp contrast to the heat and flash of his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa.”
Villaraigosa had major accomplishments in his eight years, notably winning financial support for a mass transit system that is expanding, getting people out of their cars and creating jobs. But included in the “heat and flash” he generated was an affinity for publicity and the spotlight, an embrace of celebrities, and his romances. The cautious Garcetti probably doesn’t want to be another Antonio, always swinging for homeruns and sometimes striking out.
Still, many of us are curious to know what’s happening in city hall, especially with our tax dollars. Looking for information, I checked in with Garcetti’s web site, which is designed to give residents the straight story on what’s going on the administration. The web site says, “ The priority areas represented in the tiles below are key to the success of Mayor Garcetti's "Back to Basics" agenda. This website tracks City Hall performance in key areas. “ He announced the web site in October and I find it as vague as it was when it was introduced.
Tourism is slightly up. But where are the tourists spending and staying? How much are the taxpayer- subsidized luxury hotels at LA Live contributing to the economy? Shipping is down at the port. Why? Furthermore, traffic on the web site was down from 332,959 in August to 301,915 in September. Perhaps Los Angeles is giving up on it as a source of information.
One thing that might explain the difference between New York and Los Angeles city halls is the news coverage. The Los Angeles press corps is smaller than the New York contingent. I got a rundown from Orlov of the Daily News and David Zahniser of the Los Angeles Times: Zahniser and Catherine Saillant cover for the Times from inside city hall while Michael Finnegan, working across the street in the Times building, watches the mayor; Orlov, covering news and writing a weekly column, and Dakota Smith, report for the Daily News; City News Service, supplying news to media around the area, is on the scene; Alice Walton of KPCC and Claudia Peschiutta of KNX cover for radio, as do a few other reporters.
But that’s a small band of journalists for a city government that is sprawling, intricate and packed with secretive politicians and bureaucrats. The newspapers also have been hurt by a cost-cutting major reduction of space for news. And the Times, usually squeezing city hall news into the odd and truncated LATEXTRA section or putting it only on the web site, has taken much impact out of the coverage.
In contrast, New York Mayor de Blasio is confronted with three reporters each from the Times, the Daily News and the Post, according to the web site Capital New York. In addition, the Associated Press, Reuters, Newsday and the Wall Street Journal have journalists in city hall, as do some web sites. Fiercely competing against each other, they aren’t likely to give the new mayor the luxury of the kind of laid-back first few months Garcetti has enjoyed.
But that’s exactly what we need in Los Angeles city hall. Without such coverage and more visible activity by the mayor, those who want to know what’s going on are kept in ignorance and democracy suffers.