Eric Garcetti, 42, will be the youngest mayor of Los Angeles in 100 years. At 42, he's not quite as fresh-faced as he was when he ran for City Council at the ripe age of 29. But he's still young enough to pop-and-lock and play keyboards with Moby.
The “boy mayor” has a long history in urban politics. Think of John Purroy Mitchel in New York, a reformer elected when he was 34, or Jerry Springer in Cincinnati (age 33) or Dennis Kucinich in Cleveland (age 32). Typically a city turns to a “boy mayor” when it needs a dose of youthful idealism to counteract a corrupted and stagnant City Hall machine.
And very often, things go badly for the young mayor as he is introduced to the hard realities of life in the big city.
Mitchel, for example, took on Tammany Hall and got chewed up and bounced out of office after just one term. (He died a year later in a plane accident at the age of 38.) Kucinich was so controversial that he was almost recalled before losing his bid for a second term. And Springer — well, he didn't stay in politics.
Garcetti is a little older and more experienced than any of those mayors, having served 12 years on the City Council — six as council president. But he does carry the promise of independence from the City Hall powers that be — most of whom backed his opponent — and the youthful optimism and enthusiasm for new ideas that typifies the boy mayor.
The trouble comes in governing. Having elected an idealist, voters realize they also want a good manager — someone who will pave the streets, make sure the trash gets picked up and handle labor disputes before they create havoc.
Garcetti campaigned on all of that, too, billing himself a “practical problem solver.” But he will come into office without the level of trust among the City Hall power brokers that his opponent would have enjoyed. That means he could be in for a difficult first six months in office, as various City Hall players try to see how much they can push him around.
To take just one example, Council President Herb Wesson has taken it upon himself to establish a commission — L.A. 2020 — to create a blueprint for the city's fiscal future. Among the commissioners are union leaders Brian D'Arcy and Tyler Izen, who just invested $4 million and $1.5 million, respectively, in Garcetti's defeat.
Proposing the city's budget is the mayor's responsibility. But Wesson seems to have decided that he can take the job and hand it to a group of City Hall insiders. So far, Garcetti has been agreeable about it — saying he'll take suggestions from anywhere. But this is just one example of the power struggles that he will have to engage with after July 1.
The question with Garcetti has never been whether he is smart enough for the job. The question is whether he's tough enough. He just ran a very strong campaign based on an uplifting vision of a future Los Angeles. Now comes the hard part — governing.