Eric Garcetti has won a 53%-46% victory in the Los Angeles mayor’s race following a tough campaign against Wendy Greuel. Greuel sought to become the city’s first female mayor, but was a bland candidate from the Valley who failed to energize women voters. Although the media framed the candidates as ideologically similar— the New York Times claimed they “did little to differentiate themselves on major issues like jobs and the city budget”— the city’s big landlord and realtor groups backed Greuel while tenant groups like the Coalition for Economic Survival supported Garcetti.
Greuel pledged to decimate the city’s vastly improved housing code enforcement program, while Garcetti has long backed tenants and affordable housing. I wrote on April 3 that Greuel faced an “uphill battle,” and that New York City’s Christine Quinn, another real estate backed moderate woman candidate, had a greater chance of success. Quinn’s chances still look good, particularly because she does not face an opponent as strong as Garcetti.
Los Angeles is still recovering from the historic 2005 mayor’s race that made Antonio Villaraigosa the city’s first Latino mayor of the modern era. The mayor’s 2009 re-election campaign had a dreadful voter turnout, and the 2013 race generated nowhere near the citywide excitement of the 2005 race or the 2001 race in which James Hahn overcame Villaraigosa’s insurgent candidacy.
In fact, the 2013 race was a poor imitation of the galvanizing identity politics that drove the 2001 and 2005 contests. While Greuel would have been the city’s first woman mayor, Garcetti ran to become its first Jewish mayor—while also claiming to be Latino (and having an Italian-sounding last name).
Ultimately, my sense of this race likely benefitted from not spending any time in Los Angeles since last summer. It enabled me to see the big picture — which is that Garcetti offered a more dynamic presence in a city that was not eager for a female version of James Hahn.
Garcetti also benefited from a left-right alliance that often leads to winning citywide elections. He kept the progressive base he earned from this City Council record and combined it with conservative San Fernando Valley voters angry at the Valley-based Greuel for her campaign receiving million of dollars from unions representing Department of Water and Power workers.
Los Angeles mayors face a tough challenge. Much of what people think of as “Los Angeles” — such as Santa Monica — is actually part of the county, not the city proper. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors administers core government functions in 88 cities in which millions of people live — the five elected supervisors lack the national name recognition of the Los Angeles mayor but they hold vast power over Los Angeles.
Voters understand the limits of mayoral power, which explains the lack of excitement over the 2013 race. Many progressives were deeply disappointed by Villaraigosa’s tenure, and could not harness similar enthusiasm for any successor.
Los Angeles is such a great big city that you can grow up on the Westside as I did and never visit vast stretches of the city. True, many New York City residents do not visit portions of the Bronx, East New York, or other neighborhoods, but Los Angeles is so spread out that some of its communities are hours apart. This not only makes it hard to hold activist meetings — how do you hold a citywide meeting on tenant issues when it requires some to take a two hour bus ride — but makes a mayoral campaign more akin to a statewide race.
Will Garcetti make a difference? His City Council track record offers a good sign, but after wrongly predicting great things for Villaraigosa I’ll hold off here.
Implications for NYC?
The leading male challengers to Christine Quinn may be encouraged by Garcetti’s win, but the NYC race differs in two key ways. First, real estate interests have far greater power and are totally behind Quinn. Second, none of her challengers have demonstrated a capacity to break from the pack and go after Quinn head to head.
While Wendy Greuel was the earlier Los Angeles frontrunner (starting with the same type of huge financial advantage that Quinn has) the runoff was always coming down to her and Garcetti. In NYC, however, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio—the politically strongest progressive in the race—is still struggling to be seen as the leading Quinn alternative. In fact, the imminent entry of former Congressmember Anthony Weiner into the race is projected to hurt de Blasio the most.
Quinn has many other advantages that Gruel did not enjoy, but lacking a powerful opponent is critical. Quinn is still on track to win election as NYC’s first woman mayor.
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