What happens if Eric Garcetti resigns as L.A. mayor? It’s up to City Council to decide

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Following an announcement from the White House Friday that President Joe Biden has nominated Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to serve as ambassador to India, many Angelenos are wondering what it will mean for the city.

“I want you to know that every day I am your Mayor, I will continue to lead this city like it is my first day on the job, with passion, focus, and determination,” Garcetti said in a statement Friday. “Should I be confirmed, I’ll bring this same energy, commitment, and love for this city to my new role and will forge partnerships and connections that will help Los Angeles.”

Although the mayor accepted the nomination, he will still face Senate confirmation, which could take weeks or months.

Should he resign as mayor, the City Charter gives City Council the power to appoint an interim mayor to replace Garcetti through the end of his term. The council’s president, currently Nury Martinez, can also act as mayor pending an appointment of a successor — complicating the upcoming mayoral election, in which Martinez is said to be “seriously considering” a run.

Garcetti, who was first elected in 2013 after serving a dozen years on City Council, will term out in December 2022. (His term is an extra year-and-a-half long because Angelenos voted in 2018 to switch local elections to even-numbered years.)

A primary in the mayoral race is set for June 7, 2022, with the general election on Nov. 8, 2022.

But the City Charter also gives the council the power to call a special election to pick who serves through December 2022. This would not affect the schedule of the 2022 election, but would certainly complicate the race.

It’s unclear if City Council would take this step, which could end up being expensive to administer if it’s not combined with another election, such as the expected recall referendum on Gov. Gavin Newsom.

And Martinez isn’t the only councilmember who could appear on a ballot. Councilmember Joe Buscaino has already declared his candidacy, and councilmembers Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kevin de León are also said to be considering runs for mayor. De León previously served as president pro tempore of the state Senate, and Ridley-Thomas as an L.A. County supervisor.

If he leaves, Garcetti would become the first sitting mayor to step down since 1916, when Charles Sebastian resigned after a newspaper published his love letters to his mistress, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Garcetti would leave behind a city where his tenure has been defined by the coronavirus pandemic and an out-of-control homeless crisis that saw filthy encampments spread into nearly every neighborhood.

He considered a 2020 White House bid and later became part of Biden’s inner circle, emerging as a widely discussed possibility to join Biden’s Cabinet last year. But he took himself out of the running, saying the raging coronavirus crisis made it impossible for him to step away.

“I continue to advise the administration about the people and the policies that they need that can help us heal and stand back up stronger than before,” Garcetti said in a livestreamed virus briefing on Dec. 17. “Through it all, I’ve shared the perspective of a mayor, a local official representing real Americans who are on the front lines of this crisis. In this moment, as so many lives are on the line, there is nothing more important to me, no task more urgent, than being here as your mayor during the worst emergencies that our city has ever faced.”

If confirmed, Garcetti would be dispatched to India as it has been overwhelmed by a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths. India’s death toll is the third highest reported in the world after the U.S. and Brazil, and true numbers are thought to be significantly greater.

The India post would allow the politically ambitious Garcetti to burnish his foreign policy credentials ahead of a possible future White House run. That’s a conspicuous gap on his resume — the Ivy League graduate and Rhodes scholar has spent two decades in city government, either as mayor or a city councilman.

The two-term mayor would leave L.A. with an uneven record. He has been credited with continuing a transit buildup in a city choked with traffic, establishing tougher earthquake safety standards for thousands of buildings and steering the city though the deadly pandemic as it became a hot spot for infections. Cases have fallen steeply in the city and some restrictions have been rolled back, consistent with the trajectory in the state.

But Garcetti was overmatched by a crisis of homelessness that became a national embarrassment despite the massive jump in government spending to fight it. Many streets and sidewalks remain cratered and crumbling, despite his early pledge to make fixing them a cornerstone of his administration.

A lawsuit alleges that a former top staffer sexually harassed one of the mayor’s police bodyguards while Garcetti ignored it or laughed it off. The mayor denies the claims. One of his former deputy mayors was also indicted on corruption charges in an ongoing federal investigation at City Hall. And as is the case in many large cities, the crime rate in L.A. is spiking.

In picking Garcetti, the president would be rewarding a loyalist who was one of his national campaign co-chairs, who served on the committee that vetted his pool of vice presidential contenders and who served as one of several co-chairs for Biden’s inaugural committee.

Garcetti’s popularity has slipped in recent years, and Black Lives Matter protesters had banged drums outside his official residence earlier this year to urge Biden not to choose Garcetti for a Cabinet position.

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