City Councilman Eric Garcetti's victory in the run-off for mayor of Los Angeles Tuesday was driven in part by the victor's close ties to President Barack Obama and his political organization.
Former Obama political adviser David Axelrod assisted Garcetti in his run for mayor. Garcetti had campaigned for Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and was California co-chairman of the Obama campaign that year.
In rolling up 54 percent of the vote over fellow Democrat Wendy Greuel, the city controller, Garcetti's win was particularly impressive in that Greuel had the endorsement of Bill Clinton.
The former president, whose blessing among Democrats can normally add at least 5 percent to a candidate's vote total, recorded phone messages, raised money, and appeared at rallies for Greuel, a former Clinton administration official.
Although both Garcetti and Greuel had strong records of support for organized labor, it was Greuel who won the most backing from unions. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 spent $1.65 million on her behalf.
Garcetti hit hard, attacking Greuel's labor support. His television salvos charged that because of the big money she received from unions, Greuel could not be depended upon as mayor to make hard decisions in a city wracked by budget shortfalls. The Electrical Workers union strikes a particularly sore note with city voters, as it represents workers at the unpopular Department of Water and Power (DWP).
Garcetti, in contrast, touted his own record of supporting layoffs and furloughs of city employees in order to make fiscal ends meet.
An important point in the contest was the early endorsement of Garcetti by Kevin James, the sole Republican candidate in the initial primary. James campaigned on a platform of fiscal conservatism and social moderation and was eliminated from the race after finishing third in the open primary behind Garcetti and Greuel.
Soon after being eliminated from the race, James, a centrist, gave his blessing to Garcetti. The "lesser of two evils" argument notwithstanding, area Republicans were furious with James.
Jon Fleischman of the Flash Report, a much-read online political newsletter, led the charge when he wrote that "James' sell-out to the left is not without consequence. For my part, I have no interest in supporting James in the future, now that he's demonstrating a willingness to give a patina of fiscal restraint to a big spender and regulator like Garcetti. And I’ve heard similar rhetoric from other conservative leaders on this topic as well."
But the strategy worked. According to The Los Angeles Times, "most striking was Garcetti's success in defeating Greuel in such Republican bastions as Porter Ranch, an area won by GOP candidate Kevin James in the March primary."
"The most liberal man in the race carried Republicans by a substantial margin," Bill Wardlaw, who chaired the campaigns of former mayors Richard Riordan and James Hahn, told the Times. "To me, that can all be traced to the DWP, and the perception that was created around the DWP, and what that meant to the mayoralty."
Garcetti, 42, is the son of one-time Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, whose career went down amid great controversy. The mayor-elect has long been motivated by a desire to vindicate his father's reputation.
Only 13 years ago, the Garcetti name was anything but an asset in the politics of the City of Angels.
In his first term as district attorney from 1992 to 1996, Garcetti and his office were widely blamed for mishandling the prosecution of the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson cases.
A year after a jury found Simpson not guilty, Garcetti barely secured re-election. Over the next four years, the district attorney was involved in a highly public argument with then-Police Chief Bernard Parks when the L.A. police department was accused of brutality in minority parts of Los Angeles.
In 2000, voters had grown fed up with their district attorney and he was turned out of office by Republican Steve Cooley, who had headed the welfare fraud unit in Garcetti's office.
Eric Garcetti has been trying to restore the family name ever since. He was elected to the city council in 2005 and 2009, and later became council president. On Tuesday, he took the biggest step so far.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax
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