"I'm not big on symbolism," said Councilman Herb Wesson,… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti announced Thursday he is backing Councilman Herb Wesson as his successor, a move that could pave the way for the council to elect its first African American president in its 161-year history.
Garcetti, who is running for mayor, said he would introduce a motion Friday calling for Wesson to become president at the council's first meeting in January. Wesson, 60, has already signaled interest in the job, and supporters hope to put six other signatures on the motion — enough to show that a majority of the council supports him.
The maneuvering comes two weeks after the abrupt resignation of the council's president pro tem, Jan Perry, who said she did not like behind-the-scenes negotiations over the presidency and the upcoming process for redrawing council district boundaries.
Wesson has served as the state's Assembly speaker, one of the most powerful political jobs in California. Nevertheless, he would make city history if Garcetti's motion is approved.
"I'm not big on symbolism, but I do think any and every barrier we can tear down makes it easier for other people," said Wesson, whose district takes in neighborhoods including Koreatown, Jefferson Park, West Adams and Mid-City.
In a statement, Garcetti said Wesson has "the experience and skills" to guide the council through the city's ongoing budget crisis. Garcetti also said he supports making Councilman Ed Reyes president pro tem. A vote is expected Wednesday.
The change in leadership could spark a number of shifts at City Hall. Wesson said he wanted to "cut down some of the theatrics" during council meetings and make them move more quickly. Wesson is viewed as being closely aligned with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose office sometimes has had a prickly relationship with Garcetti and Perry.
Wesson was chief of staff to former Councilman Nate Holden and former county Supervisor Yvonne Burke. He was elected to the council in 2005 and reelected twice.
As president, Wesson would set each council agenda and serve on the powerful committee that negotiates contracts with public employee unions.
Wesson's legislative deputy, Andrew Westall, was named last week to run the 21-member Redistricting Commission, the panel that will draw new maps for the 15 council districts. That hiring was opposed by Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who said Westall was a key figure in a lawsuit over Parks' unsuccessful 2008 campaign for county supervisor.