The two leading contenders for mayor -- City Councilman Eric Garcetti and… (Los Angeles Times )
Trying to set yourself apart from the pack in the Los Angeles mayor's race, you couldn't ask for a much more potent ally than former President Clinton. Unless your backing came from the current occupant of the Oval Office, President Obama.
The two leading contenders for mayor — City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti — have each told confidants they hope one of those marquee names will be in their corner. According to sources close to the two candidates, Garcetti believes he can get Obama's backing, while Greuel thinks Clinton, and perhaps outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, may give her the nod.
But a presidential imprimatur, especially one from a current White House occupant, does not come up without complications. Garcetti's connections to Obama could be trumped by the clout of some of Greuel's most prominent, moneyed backers. Two of the founders of the DreamWorks studio — Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg — gave millions to a committee supporting Obama's reelection and have made clear that Greuel, their onetime employee, is their choice for mayor.
"They are 100% behind Wendy and they were top fundraisers for the president nationally," one of Greuel's political advisers said of Spielberg and Katzenberg, who formed DreamWorks with David Geffen. "There is no way that Eric is going to get that endorsement. There is not a chance of that."
Like most of those interviewed for this story, the adviser declined to be named, saying that he was relaying what were supposed to be confidential conversations. Members of both campaigns feared that merely publicizing the possible presidential involvement in the race could make the candidates appear presumptuous and alienate Obama and the Clintons.
Through a spokesman, Garcetti said that he never told anyone he expected Obama to be in his camp.
The previously unpublicized skirmish demonstrates the persistent afterlife of a rivalry that began in the 2008 presidential race — when Obama narrowly defeated Clinton's wife, Hillary, in a bitter Democratic primary season. "This town was heavily divided by the 2008 primary," said one prominent political operative, who has spoken to both Greuel and Garcetti about where the Clintons and Obama could end up. "Some of those divisions are still pretty strong. You are still an Obama person or a Clinton person."
After more than a decade out of office, former President Clinton has shown a proclivity for taking sides in elections, big and small. He endorsed a raft of congressional candidates in November's general election, many of them apparently in thanks for their support of Hillary Clinton's 2008 candidacy.
Although Obama has sometimes chosen between fellow Democrats, it could be particularly awkward in a race that is technically nonpartisan and that has no immediate bearing on his job. Garcetti, Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry — the most prominent contenders in the March 5 primary — are all Democrats, each representing constituencies key to Obama's reelection victory.
Still, Garcetti insiders said his connections to the president should not be underestimated. The Hollywood-area councilman joined Obama's campaign more than a year and a half before the 2008 general election, becoming one of five co-chairs for California and a "superdelegate" at the Democratic National Convention.
A few political operatives said Garcetti told them that, more than a year ago, Obama offered him a job in the administration addressing urban issues. Although Garcetti considered a move to Washington, he was concerned it would preclude a run for mayor, the sources said.
The 41-year-old councilman said in an interview that he would not discuss whether he had been offered a position. He noted that he chairs a committee of Democratic municipal officials and "thought I could serve him better out here."
"I consider the president a personal friend," Garcetti said, "and he has given me career advice even as he has been president." But he said he isn't counting on an endorsement. "I mean, he's a sitting president," Garcetti said. "I don't have that expectation."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about Garcetti.
Two political operatives who spoke to Garcetti months ago said he sounded confident about having Obama on his side. One said Garcetti recounted a conversation with Obama, in which the president indicated he would support the councilman's mayoral bid because Garcetti had been an early supporter in the presidential campaign. More recently, the source said, Garcetti described presidential backing as a possibility but far from a sure thing.