A key figure in Mayor Eric Garcetti's administration has quietly adopted a new title, an apparent signal of his growing influence within the office.
Rick Jacobs, who was named Garcetti's deputy chief of staff in 2013, has recently added the title of “executive vice mayor.” The title, which was never publicly announced, did not exist previously within City Hall. It confers no new formal responsibilities but it does suggest an informal expansion of Jacobs' role.
“He adopted this title,” said Connie Llanos, a mayoral spokeswoman. “The mayor knew this was happening.”
According to emails released to the Weekly this week under the California Public Records Act, Jacobs' new title seems to have originated in a discussion over diplomatic protocol in August. At the time, Jacobs was involved in preparations for the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit, which took place in L.A. in September.
The Beijing government was offering to sign an agreement at the summit with Los Angeles on reducing climate emissions. A sticking point was that the agreement would be signed by Garcetti and Li Shixiang, the executive vice mayor of Beijing. L.A. officials wrote to Beijing stating they preferred that Garcetti's “direct counterpart” sign the agreement — either the mayor or the Communist Party secretary of Beijing.
The Beijing officials wrote back to say that the executive vice mayor is a powerful figure with responsibility for climate change. Officials from the U.S. State Department also got involved, indicating it would be appropriate for Garcetti and Li to sign the agreement.
The timing is not entirely clear from the emails, but it appears that Jacobs had already taken an interest in the executive vice mayor title. He conferred about it with Stephen Cheung, a former Garcetti official who now serves as the president of World Trade Center Los Angeles. Cheung wrote an email to Jacobs about the title after conferring with friends in China and Korea.
“Vice Mayors are pretty much the #2 across the board for Asia,” Cheung wrote in an email dated April 30, which was re-sent to Jacobs on Aug. 24. “In China, the usage of Executive Vice Mayor is reserved for the major metropolitan areas and is reserved for leaders with more authority than Vice Mayors. That title is also very well respected by the Chinese business community. Although Executive Vice Mayor is not utilized frequently in Korea and Japan, it is accepted both in the government and business sectors as the #2 position after the Mayor.”
Cheung also noted that in Los Angeles, the most recent comparable title belonged to Austin Beutner, who served as “first deputy mayor” under Garcetti's predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa.
Jacobs declined a request for an interview on the subject. In a statement, Llanos said that Jacobs took on the title because he handles international affairs for Garcetti and the new title is easier for foreign officials to understand.
“His current title did not translate in many countries and limited his capacity to conduct some of his job responsibilities,” Llanos said.
In October, the Vietnamese ambassador to the United States paid a visit to Los Angeles. His staff sought a meeting with Garcetti but were informed that the mayor was too busy.
“However,” wrote Jonathan Yang, a mayoral aide, “our Executive Vice Mayor Rick Jacobs will be most honored to host the Ambassador for a meeting.”
In November, the governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan also was turned down for a meeting with Garcetti. His staff asked for a meeting with whoever is “next in line.”
“In the mayor's absence,” Yang wrote, “our dignitaries are received by our Executive Vice Mayor, Rick Jacobs.”
Jacobs' use of the title is not limited to interactions with Asian dignitaries. He also used it during the mayor's trip to Paris for the U.N. conference on climate change. In an email to an official in Paris, Jacobs wrote, “By way of introduction, I am Executive Vice Mayor and Deputy Chief of Staff for Mayor Garcetti. I currently plan to travel with Mayor Garcetti and hope to have the pleasure of meeting you.”
Before joining the Mayor's Office, Jacobs ran the Courage Campaign, an advocacy group that focused on support for gay marriage and other progressive causes. He also ran an independent expenditure committee, which backed Garcetti during the 2013 election.
As deputy chief of staff, Jacobs is not the second most powerful person in the city. That would be Herb Wesson, the president of the City Council. Nor is he the second-ranking person in the Mayor's Office. That's Ana Guerrero, Garcetti's chief of staff. Guerrero and Rich Llewellyn, the mayor's counsel, are the only two officials who report directly to the mayor. Garcetti also has four deputy mayors who, like Jacobs, report to Guerrero.
Los Angeles has not traditionally had a “vice mayor” title. However, in other cities the title typically refers to an elected council member who fills in when the mayor is away.