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Garcetti’s Vision Still Unclear to Many

August 14, 2014
by Jeremy Loudenback

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti  photo credit: victoriabernal via photopin cc

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti
photo credit: victoriabernal via photopin cc

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti garnered national scrutiny this month, thanks to a cover story in Governing magazine. In his first year on the job, Garcetti has received mixed reviews, according to the profile.

He has largely eschewed the lofty ambitions of his predecessors. Antonio Villaraigosa championed big-ticket public transit projects and unsuccessfully battled the Los Angeles Unified School District in an attempt to gain greater control over low-performing schools. And Jim Hahn made police reform, including a contentious switch of police chiefs, the focus of his time in office.

But so far Garcetti has steered away from loftier causes and instead toward more low-profile concerns that are more frequently associated with CEOs than mayors: performance reviews, creating a system of metrics for further analysis and an emphasis on efficient use of resources. This “back-to-basics” focus has impressed some, while leaving others confused.

What has been notably absent, in the opinion of many, is vision. That’s puzzled some longtime observers of Los Angeles politics. “I have no sense of what he is trying to do,” says political commentator Joe Mathews. “I don’t think there has been any vision or action toward a vision that I can ascertain.”

Garcetti believes that such criticisms miss the whole point of what he is doing. Far from playing “small ball,” as his critics assert, he believes he is engaged in the most wide-ranging and important of all enterprises. He says that by demonstrating that city government can handle its primary responsibilities effectively, he will be able to convince one of America’s most skeptical constituencies to trust government again.

The Los Angeles Times mirrored the article’s assertions, calling Garcetti’s agenda in his first year “low risk.” And other voices are much less pleased with Garcetti’s accomplishments and failure to address the big-picture problems outlined in the Los Angeles 2020 Commission. But the mayor has worked to push his small-ball approach forward. Bill Boyarsky noted DataLA, the Garcetti-engineered open-data website, has expanded its offering of data, allowing residents to make better judgments about the effectiveness of city services than ever before.

It is still early in Garcetti’s tenure and too soon to know whether his focus on performance management metrics will resonate with voters. But even with many skeptical observers, Garcetti maintains that improving how Los Angeles operates is more than small potatoes: “The basics is big ball these days,” he said in the Governing profile. “If they were so easy, they would have already gotten done.”



Best and Worst – July winners

Best in Governance

Bill de Blasio

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio photo credit: @KevinCase via photopin cc

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
photo credit: @KevinCase via photopin cc

In July, a shocking video clip surfaced on the Internet that showed New York Police Department (NYPD) personnel brutally subduing a Staten Island African-American man and choking him to death. The disturbing footage from a bystander’s cell phone revealed police using an illegal chokehold to tackle the 43-year-old Eric Garner. Before the heavyset, asthmatic father of six lost consciousness, he can be heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.”

The chilling video created an outrage, bringing close attention to the tactics NYPD officers use to restrain suspects and presenting New York Mayor Bill de Blasio with the first test of his young administration. In recent history, New York has been haunted by a litany of deaths resulting from excessive police force, including infamous cases like Amadou Diallo during Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s time in charge and of Sean Bell under the Michael Bloomberg administration.

With these cases in mind, de Blasio moved fast and took a decisive role in addressing the crisis that stands in contrast to the sometimes tone-deaf positions of his predecessors. Soon after watching the Garner video, Mayor de Blasio organized a swift response that included an immediate outreach campaign to members of the Garner family, conversations with organizer and police critic Rev. Al Sharpton and other community members, and suspensions for the officer involved as well as four members of the emergency medical response team that seemed slow in its response.

The mayor’s assertive approach in taking control of a potentially flammable situation almost immediately instead of waiting was a smart and intuitive move from the largely untested de Blasio. But still it may not be enough to make the crisis disappear and for the country to forget the searing images from the video. With anger across the city still simmering, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has promised to review police training procedures, and Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan is investigating a death the medical examiner has deemed a homicide under great scrutiny. Mayor de Blasio has struggled to bring together police and community members together as well as with questions about how he will balance his campaign promises to rein in the NYPD with the need to build a working relationship with the police. Still, his action to act decisively at the start of the crisis is a demonstration that de Blasio is capable of taking strides toward forging a forceful and responsive leadership style.


Worst in Governance

Andrew Cuomo

NY Gov Andrew Cuomo  photo credit: ad454 via photopin cc

NY Gov Andrew Cuomo
photo credit: ad454 via photopin cc

For New Yorkers who have become weary of an epidemic of political corruption and unsavoryscandals over the past few years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vows last year to clean up the state’s disreputable politics were a welcome development. Promising that New Yorkers could “sleep better” knowing that their government would be held to the “highest ethical and legal standards,” Cuomo convened an independent commission with wide-ranging powers to investigate public corruption under the powers of the 1907 Moreland Act.

However, those hopes have largely been dashed. Cuomo abruptly shut down the panel in March and later claimed in an interview that he was beyond reproach: “I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.” And a July New York Times investigation into the governor’s influence on the panel showed that Cuomo did more than just prematurely shutter the special commission. Interviews with staff members and a review of emails, subpoenas and internal documents revealed that the governor’s office played an active role in thwarting its own oversight body.

When the Moreland Commission issued a subpoena to investigate the practices of a media firm that purchased millions of dollars of ads for the New York State Democratic Party, the governor’s office moved quickly to pressure the commission to withdraw the subpoena. The firm counted Cuomo as one of its clients. But this was not an isolated case. The New York Times report uncovered several instances of the Cuomo’s aides actively working to compromise and undercut the efforts of the commission when it came too close to the governor and his interests, yielding a barrage of criticism for the would-be reformer.

The scandal has drawn the attention of U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, who confronted the governor with a strongly worded letter after the New York Times report that raised the possibility that the Cuomo administration might face an investigation for obstruction of justice or witness tampering. With Cuomo facing re-election in November, the Moreland Commission scandal has threatened a campaign once considered cakewalk—a surprising turn of events for a man who had previously campaigned on a promise to clean up New York’s beleaguered record of public corruption.


Bedrosian Book Club Podcast – the Citizenville edition

by Raphael Bostic,David Sloane, and Sherry Bebitch Jeffe

51BiTqxDpmLIn this edition of the Bedrosian Book Club Podcast, the faculty discuss California lieutenant  Governor, Gavin Newsom‘s book Citizenville.

Ostensibly, the book is about how government has not caught up with the ubiquity of smart phones and technology found in the rest of our everyday lives. It is a rallying cry for innovation from within government to revolutionize the way things are accomplished. Newsom argues that technological innovation will both create more efficiency and create a wider public responsiveness.

So did Raphael, David and Sherry have Gavin Newsom’s optimism that technology will easily reinvent government?

Did you read this book? Use a great government app (like MyLA311) that we should know about? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter or Facebook.

To listen, go to our show page or listen on SoundcloudiTunes U, iTunes Podcasts


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