In addition to his duties as L.A. City Council President, Eric Garcetti is has also been campaigning for Barack Obama for almost a year. He told me, “I signed on April 29th of last year. The reason I remember the date it was the 15th anniversay of the LA riots. He gave a great speech at the AME church and then we rode around in his car for a half hour and talked through his campaign and what role I might play.”
As one of Obama’s five California chairpeople, Garcetti is advising the Presidential candidate on national, policy, and Latino issues. Garcetti is also one of California’s 65 Democratic super-delegates, making his vote at this summer’s Democratic convention an influential one in determining the whether Obama or Clinton will win the party nomination.
In the following interview, I talked with Garcetti about how he became a super-delegate, why he’s supporting Obama, and his own political aspirations… (photo by a35mmlife, used under Creative Commons)
How did you become a superdelegate?
I was already a superdelegate before (the state primary). So I’ve been going to those national meetings, and as such was an automatic superdelegate. It had nothing to do with who is running.
I am vice chair (and will become the chair later this year) of the Democratic Municipal Officials, representing all of the locally elected Democratic officials in the country. Its the local equivalent of the Democratic Governor’s Association. We’re the largest group of elected Democrats of any association in the country, and we get 3 superdelegates as part of the party rules: our chair, our vice chair, and then one DNC rep.
Have you received any called from the Clinton campaign to change your support?
I have not since I became formally affiliated. There a lot of people who I know are affiliated (with Obama) but still get phone calls, but I haven’t gotten any. I’ve made some calls to other superdelegates for sure.
I did sit down and had a great meeting with Senator Clinton about a month before meeting with Senator Obama. We sat down in her Senate office for about a half hour last March and had a very good conversation. But I’ve known him longer and had an ongoing relationship with him.
Mayor Villaraigosa is defending the amount of time he’s spending with Clinton campaign because he believes a Clinton presidency would be beneficial for the city. Would a President Obama be better for Los Angeles?
I know Obama would be better for Los Angeles for the following reasons:
One, he’s actually lived here and has life experience in L.A. for two years.
Two, he came of political age working in a city that faces similar problems to those we do in Los Angeles (in Chicago), so I think his values politically and his policy interest are very focused on urban areas.
And then third, I think he’ll be the best person for a city as reflective of our diversity as Los Angeles is. He’s somebody who is very much of the same quilt as Los Angeles is too.
How much time have you devoted to the Obama campaign?
I devoted a week in Iowa, and went to Nevada for the caucuses on a Friday and Saturday, and then worked quite hard inside California. That week I spent in Iowa was one of two, two week recesses in council. Otherwise don’t feel like I can or should leave Los Angeles to campaign much because I have to run the Council and the Council meetings.
In my spare time in the evenings and in the mornings before work, before the California primary, I was spending a great deal of time, starting from early last summer. I did that on my off hours and I did it with Los Angeles in mind. But I also did it because of my personal belief in this candidate and this man and I believe like every American I have the right to exercise that political participation and did it the best way that I could.
What do you think of the nickname some have given Mayor V – Hillarygosa?
(Laughs) I hadn’t heard that.
I couldn’t think of anything for you – although Garcoma or Obamacetti sound like they could be expensive shoes.
He’s half white, half black. I’m half Jewish, half Mexican. If you try to merge us I’m not sure what you’d get. Garbama, Ocetti? I’ll keep my name, I’ll let him keep his. But I’ve had fun playing with his (Obama’s) name, like the Barack-racy.
In an interview with Zach Behrens at LAist a couple years ago, discussing term limit extensions you said: “I think any elected official comes into office needing up to two years to learn the ropes.” As someone who clearly values experience, why are you supporting someone who arguably has a limited amount of experience?
I think quite the contrary.
Compared to his opponent in the Democratic primary he’s been an elected official longer. He has the right sort of experience that too many Presidential candidates and Presidents didn’t ever have, which is community organizing experience.
I’ve hired a lot of community organizers in my office. I’ve done some community organizing myself. And it would seem to be one of the basic requirements of anybody who would seek to lead the country and yet its an astounding thing that he would really be the first community organizer ever to come up.
Having a Constitutional law professor, especially after the last seven years of people walking away from the Constitution in this administration seems to be critically important experience nobody else has.
And I think that his life experience, which I think is the most important thing – we vote on a person, not on a policy wonk, not on how many awards somebody received from the local rotary club. We vote on a person. To me, life experience is the most critical experience and I don’t think anybody who is familiar with Obama’s story can not say its incredibly deep, incredibly rich, and the right experience for this moment in American history.
When will you announce your intentions to run for Mayor?
I’m very happy being council president, and a supporter of this mayor serving out another term. Everybody who I know who has gone on from City Council to other jobs says this is the best job you’ll ever have in politics, and I believe it. If I had to walk away tomorrow I would feel blessed to have been a City Council member. But knowing I can plug away for another five years, not only for the constituents in my district, but for folks throughout the city as Council President, is something too good to pass up.
So are you saying you wouldn’t want to run for Mayor?
Not certainly in this next election. All I’m focused on his getting reelected next year.
In an interview on LA City View last year, I heard you comment that Los Angeles is city where City Council is more powerful than the mayor.
Traditionally it has been a strong council system. You can make a difference not only in your own district where you see neighborhoods change and emerge and improve, but you can also move huge issues legislatively. There’s not a lot of impediments that stand in your way if you’re spreading an issue hard, do the work, and follow through, and I’ve been able to do that. I love what I’m doing right now.