- Terelle Jerricks
The mayor-elect attempts to lower expectations while show that he’s listening
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
On the evening of June 20 Los Angeles Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti held the last of seven town hall meetings to garner support and input from his city-wide constituents. Although the house of the Warner Grand Theater was never more than a quarter filled with citizens from many parts of both the 15th District and the city at large there were many notables in attendance and many neighborhood council representatives–they seemed to at least be engaged in the premise of the meeting. This was Garcetti’s nod towards a more progressive, populist and open municipal government, that is all too often criticized for “not listening.”
This was not, however, set up like the Greek Forum for grand public debate or great oratory, but more like a conference technique for consensus building– post-it notes and pens. Afterwards the Random Lengths editor, Terelle Jerricks and myself had a short time to ask a few question accompanied by Robert Gelfand who writes for CityWatch where some of my columns have appeared.
James Allen: What do you think your victory means in terms of how a very small percentage of the electorate voted in the city? A lot of people cast this as there not being much difference between you and Wendy. What was the difference?
Eric Garcetti: First of all, low voter turnout is not unique to LA. It’s gone down nationwide. San Antonio has gone down 16 percent. Houston has voting on Sunday and it was under 20 percent. All these things. I don’t think it was because we were too close or not exciting enough. I just think its a larger trend nationwide. But what do think it was about is that a contrast was made even if the voter turnout was low. And, it was a vote for independence. It was a vote for a record over rhetoric. It was a vote to bring some of the prosperity that I brought to my district, a poor district in tough times, citywide. And lastly, I think it was a vote for responsiveness. People want to be listened to. They want to feel like city hall is going to get better. They don’t expect us to be great overnight. They don’t expect our problems to be solved overnight. But they do want to see that the needle is going in the right direction and I think that’s what the electorate was looking for.
JA: Do you think that even this minority that voted. I see that there was a great consistency in the way that they voted. They voted for you. They voted for Mike Feuer and Ron Galperin. And there is great consistency in those three victories. What do you attribute that to?
EG: I think people are not looking for big promises. They are not looking for lofty dreams. But they are looking for proven results. And you know, Ron Galperin knows the details of the finances of the city with a depth that few outsiders do. I appointed him chairman of CORE, Commission of Revenue Efficiency. And, I created that commission because I met him years ago and he was really strong in this area. Mike Feuer, indisputably is a great legislator, somebody who understands the law and has helped a lot of people as a public interest law leader. So I think that they voted in all three cases for the person who would best have a nose to the grindstone approach, and was not so much looking for who had supported them but what they could do. Mike had much more support, Ron and I were more the underdogs, but at the end of the day we have a common passion for public service that is not….
JA: You know what else you have in common with the other two is more than any of the other candidates you have a willingness to listen to the constituency. The example of this, that was huge, was between Trutanich and Feuer.
EG: It goes more to the point as I mentioned tonight, it’s more important to listen than to know how to speak in politics.
Terelle Jerricks: I sat in on one of the groups and I noticed that there was no note-taking going on amongst the volunteers leading the groups, I’m not sure you required that or not.
EG: No. We collect all of the Post-Its and the moderators debrief us.
TJ: Do you think the moderators would miss some of the nuance of some of the solutions that are being offered because of the district in which they live within the city.
EG: No. I’ve followed up when they do the debriefs. I think this is a very talented group of moderators and facilitators who trained ahead of time… and debriefed afterwards and I think they bring the nuance. You can’t get the nuance and detail of every idea but that’s part of the reason why they kind of have people pitch ideas and vote on the ones that bubble up to the top. In our virtual town hall, which was done on Reddit, we put some questions out there the day before they would vote on them and they would bubble up to the top. I’m a believer in grassroots democracy, but it also has to be filtered. Not by me, but by the people themselves.
Citywatchla.com contributor, Bob Gelfand who was in attendance in the private talks with the Mayor-elect, inquired whether he would have a representative in the Harbor Area to help facilitate a direct line of communication between local stakeholders and the mayor’s office.
BG: I’ve seen you through the LA Neighborhood Council Coalition which employs Citywatchla.com, One of the things is you’re going to get a lot of applications for jobs. A lot of people want a favor from you. And, some of those people will probably be very good and some of those people will not. because it’s the public. So my first question is, which is very important to me, how does one get input into that process. How do we get an ear. And second, which is very much related to that, will you have anyone representing you down here in the Harbor Area. Maybe taking an office in Pedro’s City Hall so that the rest of us, the peasants, can actually get a little bit of an ear.]
EG: For the first part, we’re doing a very public process, so I would encourage anyone who wants to apply to apply directly. It’s not just a bunch of people behind closed doors handpicking…. I can guarantee that we are looking at everyone of those applications evenly. My best friends in the world say I want to work for you and I say friendship is first, we’ll always be friends, but I can’t guarantee you a single thing. And somebody who I’ve never heard of will have an equal shot. It doesn’t matter if you’ve supported me or didn’t. It doesn’t matter if you voted for me or not. I want the best people. The way I’m going to broaden that out throughout my time in office is that different folks will help vet people. Whether it’s a general manager, whether it’s commission president, whether it’s someone in my own staff. I’m asking quite far. Now sometimes you have to keep that close because my own staff, I have to picked them. I don’t want to put the top 10 people out there and embarrass those if they don’t get the job.
BG: We understand you gotta pick your chief of staff, but for general managers…
JA: Like the Harbor Department.
EG: I’ll take suggestions from different departments and stakeholders.
BG: I’ve been hearing some rumors going around that are very troublesome.
EG: Let me tell you this. Every rumor is wrong. I know what decisions have been made and even what discussions have been had. We’re not even in those discussions. So anybody that is [spreading that] rumor is just pushing this or that. We’re not even at the point of discussing the chief of staff and a couple of other senior people. I’m looking at this transition, not as a quick and badly done, but a slow and well done [process].
JA: So the Harbor Commission is not going to be resigning July 1.
JA: And the head of the Harbor Department is not going….
EG: I will be having discussions with my general managers probably shortly after July 1. We have to go through 35 of them if they want to re-apply…. Like I tell everybody who texted me the first night [the night Garcetti was elected], I said I got 629 texts so I probably didn’t get to read yours. But if you’re smart enough to wait three days, I did read your texts. Same thing with the administration. If you’re smart enough to wait two or three months I guarantee we’ll have capacity in here. A lot of people think that 99 percent of the decisions that get made happen in the first month. They don’t. The first 100 days [concept] is such an artificial thing. The best line I heard was when I met with Mayor Bloomberg two days ago in New York, and he said to me, do you know what I told the press when they asked me what will I have done after the first 100 days. I told them I’m going to put my team together. They didn’t like my answer but it was the truth. So, that’s my motto.