Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered what amounted to a farewell speech to his city Thursday at a time when it’s not clear when, or where, he’s going.
The two-term Democrat delivered his final State of the City address as his nomination by President Joe Biden to become U.S. ambassador to India appears imperiled in the Senate. A vote has been delayed by an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against a former Garcetti top adviser.
The nomination has languished since July and it’s not known when a vote will take place, if at all. If Garcetti remains at City Hall, his term runs through the end of the year.
The speech — at turns optimistic, nostalgic, defensive and emotional — marked a capstone of sorts for Garcetti’s two decades at City Hall, nearly half as mayor.
He approaches the end of his term with the city struggling with an unchecked homeless crisis that has spread into virtually every neighborhood, rising crime and housing prices that are out of reach for many working-class families.
He appeared to choke up when thanking his family for being with him “every step of the way” and after expressing gratitude to colleagues for their support through the “toughest of times.”
At another point, he warned that without more affordable housing and shelter for the homeless “the California dream will be an old chapter in a distant history book.”
Last month, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said in a statement he has received “numerous credible allegations” that Garcetti was aware of sexual harassment of city employees committed by his former adviser and close friend Rick Jacobs, but did nothing to stop the misconduct. His office is investigating.
Garcetti has denied witnessing or being told of any inappropriate behavior by Jacobs. A lawsuit against the city charges that Jacobs frequently sexually harassed one of the mayor’s police bodyguards while Garcetti ignored it or laughed it off. Jacobs has called the allegations against him “pure fiction.”
The annual speech is directed at City Council and marks the start of budget season, when a new spending plan is proposed and reviewed. But this year it took on a strongly personal tone, as Garcetti reflected on his years of public service. He argued he wasn’t thinking much about his legacy, but the speech appeared to be an attempt to define it.
The mayor said the pandemic-wounded city was roaring back to life, but he also acknowledged that soaring home prices were choking off opportunity for the next generation. He promised to do more on crime, but did not specify how much he would spend at the police department in the coming year.
Though driving through LA is typically an obstacle course of cracked and rutted roads, Garcetti asserted more streets were in good condition compared to when he took office. He delivered the speech on a bridge being built near downtown to highlight coming transit improvements, but the city’s notorious gridlock perseveres.
Homeless encampments, typically surrounded by mounds of trash, dot city streets and freeway off-ramps, but Garcetti said he would hire hundreds of new sanitation works to clear debris. He argued progress was being made, but candidates hoping to replace him as mayor describe the situation as a crisis, with more than 40,000 people living on the streets.
He challenged his successor to continue building housing to make homelessness “a distant memory in LA.” And he urged the next mayor to follow his lead on global warming to erase the city’s carbon footprint.
“Los Angeles, I can’t wait to see what’s next,” he said.