Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti is the third elected official… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)
L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti reshuffled the arithmetic and geography of the race to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday, joining the growing field of contenders in the 2013 citywide election.
Garcetti, 40, is the third elected official at City Hall to take the plunge, following City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry. Fluent in Spanish, he immediately becomes the only high-profile Latino in the race; his father, former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, is of Mexican descent.
While Greuel lives in the San Fernando Valley and Perry represents downtown and South Los Angeles, Garcetti has his base in the midsection of Los Angeles, taking in such neighborhoods as Echo Park, Silver Lake, Hollywood and Historic Filipinotown.
Still, he has ties to an array of other neighborhoods. Garcetti grew up in the San Fernando Valley, has parents who live on the Westside and two sets of grandparents who lived in Boyle Heights. His mother is descended from Russian and Eastern European Jews.
"His strength is that his is kind of a multiethnic candidacy, reflected in part by his own background," said Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton, who described Garcetti as a "formidable" candidate.
Garcetti said he was proud of his family's history and said he had shown skill in bringing people together — representing a district that includes large pockets of Mexican, Central American, Filipino, Armenian and Thai residents, among others. "There's not a place I go in this city where I don't have a direct connection," he said.
Because of term limits, Villaraigosa must leave office in June 2013. Also in the running are former Villaraigosa "jobs czar" Austin Beutner, who opened an exploratory committee last spring, and radio host Kevin James.
Political experts believe county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who spent nearly two decades on the City Council, will be the next one to jump into the contest. "Do I think he's getting in? I think he's absolutely, unequivocally getting in," said Rick Taylor, a political consultant who has advised Yaroslavsky.
Garcetti was first elected in 2001 and became council president in 2005. Over a decade, he has developed an image as an up-and-coming progressive Democrat. He was an early endorser of President Barack Obama and opened his Echo Park home for a spread in Dwell Magazine, which highlighted its environmentally friendly features.
Now a resident of Silver Lake, Garcetti pushed for such measures as Proposition O, a $500-million water cleanup bond measure that passed in 2004, and created an anti-graffiti program that relies on volunteers to identify and report tagging throughout his district. Still, critics said they sometimes found it difficult to determine where Garcetti stood on issues, saying he appears to wait to see which side of a controversy has the eight votes needed for a council majority.
Thursday's announcement drew a tart assessment from Beutner spokesman Sean Clegg, who warned that Garcetti's role on the council would pose problems for voters. "His candidacy, running as council president, becomes a referendum on an unpopular City Council," said Clegg, an adviser and speechwriter to Villaraigosa.
Garcetti declined to respond, but said that as mayor he would put L.A. "back on top." "It's time for us as a city to really reclaim our greatness as a global city. People don't look to L.A. as a model," he said.