Eric Garcetti's Search for Business Leader to Fix L.A. Economy Comes Up Empty

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Thu, Nov 7, 2013 at 2:31 PM

click to enlarge Eric Garcetti - PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
  • Photo by Ted Soqui
  • Eric Garcetti
A couple months back, Mayor Eric Garcetti hired a search firm to scour the globe for a new deputy mayor who would take the lead on his top priority: job growth. This person would be a "transformational" business executive, with a proven record of innovation and job creation.

As it turns out, that person does not exist. Or if they do, they have better things to do than work for the City of L.A.

So today, the mayor's office announced that Kelli Bernard, the interim deputy mayor for economic development, would take the job full-time. Congratulations Kelli! You were our first choice all along!

This is no disrespect to Bernard, who has had a long career working for the city, most recently for the Department of Water and Power. Her resume also includes work for nonprofit groups that focus on economic development.

But Garcetti clearly had a bigger fish in mind when he hired Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm, to find a "transformational and highly respected, mission-driven executive" with a "proven track record as a progressive, accomplished business leader and job creator."

From the description, it sounds like Garcetti was looking for his own Austin Beutner, the private-equity executive who brought a jolt of private-sector can-do spirit to the desultory latter years of the Antonio Villaraigosa administration.

But it turns out that guys like Beutner -- who left after 15 months to launch an abortive race for mayor -- don't come along that often. Most business leaders are busy making money, and don't have the time or patience for civil service rules and union negotiations, or for having to humor random council members, gadflies and reporters.

Garcetti noted in a press release that his administration did receive applications from "CEOs, leading investors and entrepreneurs." But, of course, pretty much anyone with a 10th-grade education can put together a PowerPoint presentation and call themselves an entrepreneur, so who knows what the caliber of these applicants actually was. Evidently none of them was up to the job.

Jeff Millman, a Garcetti spokesman, said that the mayor does not consider the executive search -- which he said cost the city roughly $55,000 -- as a failure.

"They identified some very, very strong candidates, and we'll continue talking with some of them for perhaps other roles in our administration," Millman said. 

So, Bernard it is. She may not be a transformational executive, but she is an experienced City Hall hand. She ran economic development for the DWP, and before that worked as a planning deputy for Garcetti when he was a councilman. Before that, she worked for a few nonprofits, focusing on real estate matters, and worked in business development for Mayor Richard Riordan.

She also happens to be African-American and female, which doesn't hurt in an administration largely run by old white men named Rick. Last month, commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson called on the Garcetti administration to find an African-American deputy mayor. That, it turns out, was not too much to ask.

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