Almost three months after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was elected US Ambassador to India by President Biden, it is unclear when the Senate could accept his nomination – creating endless limbo in City Hall.
The confirmation process for the appointment as president is notoriously slow. At the same time, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other Senate Republicans stopped Biden’s nominees, causing a bottleneck in applications on Capitol Hill.
Max Stier, President and CEO of Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit organization that works for better governance, compared the nomination process to a “massive traffic jam”.
“If you bet now, Garcetti will be in Confirmation Purgatory for a while,” said Taurus.
The momentum put Garcetti on hold, possibly postponing his possible exit by months. City council members, some of whom are struggling to serve the remainder of Garcetti’s tenure, also have to play the waiting game.
Several long-term helpers have already left the mayor’s office, which, according to the city’s employee lists, has recorded a staff reduction of around 15% compared to July 2020. On Friday, a public affairs firm announced that it had hired Deputy Mayor Breelyn Pete, Garcetti’s top legislative and external affairs adviser.
At the same time, public attention has shifted to the upcoming mayor race as candidates are pushed to offer solutions to homelessness, police and other urgent problems facing the city.
Garcetti and LA are going through a “breakup,” said Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School, comparing the scenario to a couple who broke up, but no person moved out of the house. “It’s an awkward position.”
Garcetti was named ambassador to India as Biden’s candidate in July, an announcement that followed months of speculation whether the mayor would join the Biden government before his term ends in December 2022.
The mayor said last week that he expects his nomination to be heard on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before the end of the year, but he doesn’t know when the entire Senate will begin it.
The uncertain schedule makes Garcetti supporters wonder whether the mayor will serve his entire second term in the end. Others, however, predict his nomination will be approved in a few months.
The Senate has only confirmed two of Biden’s 64 nominees for ambassadorial posts, according to the non-profit public service partnership. An incoming president can select 4,000 political appointees, including 1,200 appointees who require Senate approval.
Ambassadorial positions are not prioritized, said Stier, and the Senate has competing demands.
At the same time, Cruz, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, slowed down the nomination hearing process with his calls for sanctions over the construction of a Russian pipeline to Germany.
Garcetti has met with a number of senators serving on the Senate committee, including Cruz, whose office did not respond to a request for comment. The mayor described his meeting with the Texas senator last month as “good” but declined to provide details.
The mayor has made four trips to DC since the White House announced his nomination, including a trip to train for the post of ambassador, according to his office.
“He has evolved both humanly and physically,” said Rick Taylor, a Los Angeles political strategist. “Most of the people I speak to think he’s a little disconnected from the day-to-day work of mayor, which is understandable.”
Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar denied this characterization. He referred to the mayor’s schedule last week, which included homeless housing, clean energy events, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and a free public transportation program for students.
Garcetti also met with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge to advocate for LA during one of his recent trips, a mayoral advisor said. He’s also had conversations with other senior federal officials in DC about LA’s priorities, Comisar said.
“Mayor Garcetti is a remarkably hardworking civil servant and those of us who work with the mayor on a daily basis see him pushing as hard as ever for results and progress on his agenda,” said Comisar.
Comisar also said that “all key roles” within the Garcetti administration are filled with “seasoned, talented officials who work as hard for Angelenos today as they did in their early days”.
Publicly available employee lists show that Garcetti’s office has grown from about 250 employees in June 2020 – a number that includes auxiliaries hired for census work – to about 213 in the last month. According to the mayor’s office website, a top employee is both deputy chief of staff of Garcetti and deputy mayor of city services.
Ana Guerrero, Garcetti’s top assistant who was taken on administrative leave in June after revelations about derogatory comments she made on a private Facebook group, is now on medical leave, Comisar said. Since June she has continued to receive her full salary, depending on paid sick leave, sick leave, vacation pay, vacation pay and more, according to the city inspector’s office.
Comisar didn’t want to say whether Guerrero will return to the town hall.
The uncertainty surrounding Garcetti’s Senate hearing means he could be in Los Angeles by the end of January, the start of a trial against a former aide, Rick Jacobs, who is being accused of sexual harassment by Garcetti’s former bodyguard.
Bodyguard Matthew Garza accuses Garcetti of witnessing the behavior and of failing to intervene. Both the mayor and Jacobs deny the allegations.
Garcetti, who oversaw a pandemic he has likened to a war, backed off when the Times suggested in an interview that the mayor appeared ready to leave town hall.
“I’m not relieved to leave,” Garcetti said during the August interview. “I want to be here for as many days as possible and at the same time realize that I have to answer the call of this nation now.”
According to the city charter, the council has the power to appoint a temporary replacement if Garcetti leaves early. The charter also states that the council president will act as incumbent mayor when the mayor is out of state or resigning.
Councilor Paul Krekorian, chairman of the city’s budget committee, told the Times last week that the council “must appoint” a full-time interim mayor with an in-depth understanding of the budget and other issues. He said he was ready to serve or assist in someone else’s appointment.
However, a spokeswoman for City Council President Nury Martinez referred to the section of the statutes that says the council president will act as mayor when the mayor is absent.
“In terms of appointing someone to fill Mayor Garcetti’s term, these are all political games and Council President Martinez is not interested in games,” said spokeswoman Sophie Gilchrist. “She realizes that LA needs constant leadership.”