A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter.To get it in your inbox, sign up for free Gentlemen.
Days before Karen Bass was sworn in as Los Angeles’ first female mayor on Sunday, limited-term Democratic mayor Eric Garcetti is on his farewell tour of South Los Angeles.
He donned a hard hat and surveyed construction at a large affordable housing site, checked on formerly homeless residents at a motel converted to temporary housing, and toured another sprawling campus where more than 90 Shelter beds and units for nearly 200 formerly homeless.
For more than a year, Garcetti has been a bystander as Los Angeles mayoral candidates lamented the state of the city — from the ongoing crisis of some 42,000 people homeless on the streets to concerns about crime and a series of corruption scandals at the city council.
Amid the unease and unease driving the dynamics of this year’s race, Garcetti and his team have made progress on a wide range of metrics since being elected in 2013, including more shelter beds and affordable housing units, expanded police uniform body cameras, Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and extensive water conservation efforts. While he says he hates questions about his legacy, he’s clearly intent on setting the record straight.
If he leaves, Garcetti’s nomination to serve as U.S. ambassador to India, announced in July 2021, remains up in the air. His nomination has been held up for months because of concerns among senators on both sides that he ignored allegations of sexual harassment and bullying by a former top political aide. Garcetti has repeatedly denied that he ignored the allegations.
Garcetti remains optimistic that he will be confirmed as ambassador, saying the delay was an unexpected “gift” as it allowed him to work on the final day of his term. CNN caught up with Garcetti last week about his future, his record and the state of the city since his return to private life.
The excerpts below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
rest: How confident are you right now about whether and when it will be confirmed?
Garcetti: I’ve stopped guessing when, but I’m feeling optimistic. I have strong support from Republicans and Democrats who recognize this is a critical position. …I can’t wait to get to work. Even if it takes longer than originally estimated, being here is a gift. …finishing the Crenshaw line there, which will bring traffic to LAX – and eventually trains to planes; see record building volumes. Or, even deal with crises like the (leaked audio) tapes coming out of town hall. …and, seeing the city at the end of the Covid crisis. For me, it was a gift of not feeling guilty about leaving a day early.
rest: When you think back to your major accomplishments as a member of the City Council, how is the state of the city different today than when you started to really be a part of change?
Garcetti: The honest answer is that LA is harder to live in than the one I grew up in. Politicians generally shy away from things that are complicated to explain or take a long time to complete. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I love those questions the most. climate change? No, we probably won’t be able to fix it in our lifetime, but our Green New Deal is the strongest of any city in the world. …
We won the Olympics. It’s like the biggest citizenship award in the world, not just a great sporting event. It’s about really showing the world who you are. …and then, transit. Our city has always been where the car is king – the automotive capital of the world – and we’re passing a (vote) measure to build 15 bus lines. … We have tripled the rate of housing construction. Tripling and passing plans to double again means that if we have a decade of this growth to overcome four years of “not in my backyard” mentality, Los Angeles might actually be a place where you can dream of owning one Place of place is back home.
rest: We just went through a mayoral race and when you talk to voters they always say they see all this money from the state and the city go to homeless people and they don’t see things getting better. When do you think people will feel the changes taking place?
Garcetti: Forty years of inaction are the cause of this. …the curve keeps going up. We’ve flattened (the curve) now, and I believe we’re actually starting to bend it. I can see it here. I’m not saying you can’t see a lot of tents, but we cleaned up Venice. Some camps are thinning. …I don’t think people should wait ten years, but if you want the honest answer, when we had housing rights in this country, when we had housing vouchers — Housing Choice Vouchers, Part VIII — yes A right not a lottery. …When it comes to housing in this country, one in eight people in Los Angeles qualify for vouchers, and they waited years for it. …if it was easy, it would have been solved long ago.
rest: In her first post-election speech, Karen Bass said she would tackle homelessness. Is this a promise she can keep?
Garcetti: We should all set that as a goal. …If we want to end homelessness, we can point to countries that are not as rich as we are, and actually are. Don’t tell me it’s actually impossible.
rest: So, the other half of the equation — as you say — that’s not under your control as mayor is the mental health space. There have been numerous committee hearings in Washington on these issues, but no grand plan ever seems to emerge. what do you want to see there
Garcetti: This country is going through a mental health crisis and a drug addiction crisis. There are not enough professionals who can treat mental health issues, and we have no right to mental health care in this country. …Treating trauma and mental health issues is by far the largest gap in the U.S. healthcare system. If people don’t see this as a health crisis — along with the housing crisis, not both — you’ll never see an end to homelessness in America.
rest: I want to turn to politics. You are waiting for your own confirmation. (California Senator) Dianne Feinstein has been in her office for a long time. Concerns have been raised about her mental acuity. Do you feel the people of California are adequately represented in this office at this point?
Garcetti: I mean, I can witness that. Even in the past year, I’ve had conversations with her that have been very effective and critical to transportation in my city. In so many places — whether it’s the torture report, or the Wilshire subway building in downtown Los Angeles — she’s been a terrific representation.
rest: While she hasn’t raised a lot of money, she’s expected to step down at some point. Is that an office you would be interested in in the future?
Garcetti: I expected to be in India, not for that campaign. … I generally don’t close my doors, but after 20 years, I think it’s really important to take the time to reflect. …I have read two novels in 10 years. I read probably 10 non-fiction books in that time. I listen to a little music now and then, but I haven’t played the piano. … Humans are always like, ‘What are you going to do next?’ No one asks, ‘Who do you want to be next?’ I want to spend a little time with the person I want to be.
rest: If (President Joe) Biden steps down and doesn’t run for president, then (Vice President) Kamala Harris and the governor of California may both have it. Gavin Newsom is also running for president. Who will you support?
Garcetti: I don’t answer assumptions. I never said that to anyone, but I didn’t. By the way, look, I really love them both. Kamara has been a friend of mine since being the (San Francisco) district attorney, I was on the committee, and we were co-chairs of the Obama campaign. Gavin, who I got to know in a very personal way[during the pandemic]I think he’s been a really important leader for our country. I mean, I’ve always known him pretty well, but leading together in wartime was a different level of bonding.
rest: When you think about the things that are still on your bucket list – besides being an ambassador – what are you most excited about right now? I need an update on how many countries you have visited – since you said you will try to visit all countries in the world.
Garcetti: I think I’m closer to 100 now. One thing on my bucket list – which I haven’t said to anyone – but at our staff party, I finally started crowd surfing. They lifted me up and started doing it. [The song was Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”]. On my bucket list, there’s a complex Netflix show with all these guys about town hall. I’d love to get back to something creative, whether it’s my music, or the drama that comes out of the world I live in, from the perspective of someone who’s out of the drama.
rest: So, what kind of screenplay would you write—possibly with other people?
Garcetti: I was working on a musical a long time ago, and I thought it would be really fun in Los Angeles. It started with the riots and ended with the (Northridge) earthquake – ’92 to ’94 – and the Internet first appeared. That moment defines us. A group of young professionals live together. …a lot of people say, let’s develop a town hall (series). “The Wire” was good, but there hasn’t been a really good series about City Hall since. That would be fun.