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L.A. mayor-elect Eric Garcetti favors low-key over glitz

Garcetti's made few major announcements, his transition team is short on big names and he's forgoing a black-tie inaugural ball. He's also on a city listening tour.

June 17, 2013|By David Zahniser and Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times
  • Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti's listening tour brought him to Cal State Northridge on June 12. He's determined to keep his transition focused on "the quiet work behind the scenes."
Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti's listening tour brought him to Cal State… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

When it comes to glitz and showmanship, L.A.'s next mayor is taking things down a notch.

Since his victory last month, Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti has made few major announcements. He abandoned the idea of a transition team studded with big civic names. And he has ruled out plans for a black-tie inaugural ball, opting instead for a public party in Grand Park with music and food.

The biggest attention-grabber so far has been Garcetti's "back-to-basics" listening tour, with residents in Boyle Heights, Northridge and elsewhere dutifully gathering in groups and putting their ideas for the city's future on Post-It notes.

"He's setting a tone … of a quieter mayoral administration — effective but quieter. Probably not as bombastic, not as celebrity-based," said Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa "was big on celebrity and big on celebration. Garcetti's much more low-key."

Garcetti's most significant decision, naming longtime aide Ana Guerrero as chief of staff, came Monday via a prepared statement and press release.

The understated approach stands in contrast to Villaraigosa, who quickly infused City Hall with a sense of drama eight years ago.

Villaraigosa appeared on the cover of Newsweek within days of his 2005 election. He invited reporters to watch him address his 81-member transition committee. He quickly announced that he would become chairman of the powerful Metropolitan Transportation Authority. And he welcomed 1,500 people — men in tuxedos, women in evening gowns — to a lavish inaugural gala with singer Natalie Cole performing and actor Jimmy Smits serving as emcee.

The disparate styles reflect key differences between the two veteran politicians — Villaraigosa the showman who once used confetti cannons to mark a legislative victory, and Garcetti the technocrat who wants nicer neighborhoods and to "make City Hall work."

The quieter transition also shows how much city government has been transformed since the last big mayoral handover. Villaraigosa took office during a booming economy. Garcetti will take the reins after a difficult downturn, a period in which more than 5,000 jobs were erased from the city's payroll.

Garcetti says he is determined to keep his transition focused on "the quiet work behind the scenes" — identifying his priorities and assembling his administration of staffers and political appointees. "It wasn't going to be about any symbolism," he said.

"I've been around City Hall long enough now to know that the substance of what I do is the only thing I'll ever be judged on," he said. "Nobody's going to look back in four years and say, 'Did he have the right five [transition] co-chairs?'.... It will be 'Did he turn around the economy? Did he make the city work better?' "

Yet an understated style can offer its own symbolism. Asked about the inaugural party in the park, Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said Garcetti was inviting the public. "We don't want this to be a day about us," he said. "We want a day that celebrates L.A."

Garcetti has shown his own Hollywood sensibilities, putting together campaign videos with actress Salma Hayek and fundraisers with TV host Jimmy Kimmel. And like Villaraigosa, he has spent the transition showing up at an array of neighborhood events: a community picnic in Mar Vista, a high school graduation in Wilmington, a session on runaway production with entertainment industry representatives.

On Thursday, from his Silver Lake home, he went onto the social media site Reddit and fielded questions about public transportation, medical marijuana, rooftop solar energy and a city iPhone app — which Garcetti helped pioneer — that allows users to identify graffiti and abandoned couches for removal. That give-and-take showcased Garcetti's tendency to venture deep into the weeds of city decision-making.

The citywide app is "off to a good start," he wrote at one point in the online session. "But I want to keep improving it and looking at greater tools and interactivity in the app."

Garcetti's low-frills transition is playing out in the background as the departing mayor enjoys a flurry of tributes.

Transportation advocates threw a party for Villaraigosa at Union Station, thanking him for being a "transit hero." One downtown museum is staging an exhibition called "Anything is Possible: The Journey of Antonio Villaraigosa from City Terrace to City Hall." Then there was the $265,000 block party on June 7, where politicians and performers — Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, President Clinton and Garcetti — lined up to praise the outgoing mayor.

Before he introduced Garcetti at the star-studded event, Villaraigosa signaled that he intended to be a political presence until his last day, June 30. "Let me be clear today," he told the audience. "There's only one mayor at a time."

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