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Editorial: Ambassador Garcetti breaks the curse on the political ambitions of the mayors of Los Angeles

Congratulations to Eric Garcetti, and not just on becoming the US Ambassador to India.

For decades, the job of mayor of Los Angeles has been a dead end, politically speaking. By finally landing an important appointment, Garcetti has defied history and can they have broken the curse that has long plagued the political ambitions of past mayors.

On Wednesday, the United States Senate voted to confirm Garcetti’s nomination. But the closeness of the final vote (52-42, in a Democratic-controlled chamber) means the shadow over Garcetti hasn’t gone away.

Garcetti, who was an early supporter of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, was first nominated for the position in July 2021. A former Rhodes Scholar who taught international relations and diplomacy before running for office, he seemed like a favorite for office. But the nomination process dragged on, partly for partisan political reasons, but also because of serious questions about whether the mayor would tolerate sexual harassment and intimidation by one of his closest associates.

The mayor’s bodyguard, Matthew Garza, sued the city in 2020, alleging that Garcetti’s adviser, Rick Jacobs, repeatedly sexually harassed him, often in front of Garcetti. (The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in September.)

Garcetti testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he never witnessed Jacobs’s misconduct and if he had, he would have stopped it. After former Garcetti employees went to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) to raise red flags about the nomination, the senator ordered a brief that concluded that Garcetti “probably knew or should have known” about Jacob’s conduct. Around that time, Garcetti’s parents hired a lobbying firm to help push his case in Washington.

In the end, three Democratic senators, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Mark Kelly of Arizona, voted against Garcetti, saying they had serious concerns based on what they had heard. He was saved by several Republican senators who supported his nomination, in part so the United States would finally have an ambassador to a key strategic ally.

Unlike mayors before him, Garcetti now has a new chapter in his political career. Tom Bradley, Richard Riordan, and Antonio Villaraigosa all ran for governor and lost. Sam Yorty, who was a perennial seeker of higher office, ran for president in the 1972 Democratic primary and lost. Garcetti spent nearly two years exploring a presidential run, but announced in 2019 that he would focus on being mayor.

Perhaps the best strategy is to seek the mayoral job at the end of a long career, as Karen Bass did. During her campaign last year, she was seen as a politician running for her last job and she was willing to take on the politically unrewarding job of trying to solve the homeless crisis in Los Angeles.

At the best of times, the job of running Los Angeles is incredibly difficult, demanding, and often thankless. It is a sprawling city that historically has not had a strong culture of political engagement. The mayor, one of the few recognizable political figures in the region, leads the celebration of great victories (even when they are not technically in the city) forks blamed when things go wrong (even when the mayor is not the sole policy maker). Perhaps the curse of office as a career end is useful in weeding out potential mayoral candidates who are more interested in their future than the city’s.