Mayor Eric Garcetti's second term is just about 3 months old, and in that time he's been away from L.A. for more than a collective month. Garcetti, who was re-elected with 81 percent of the vote, has been out of the state 35 days since July 1, 51 days since May 1 and 70 days total in 2017, according to a compilation of the mayor's public notifications.
While that amount of time away is not entirely unusual, critics and other City Hall observers say it calls into question the mayor's priorities and his future political ambitions as he begins his second, 5½-year term.
Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A., says Garcetti's busy travel schedule is typical for big-city mayors, especially in their second terms.
“Whether it's Rahm Emanuel in Chicago or [Bill] de Blasio in New York, these are world-class, global cities, and it kind of makes sense for mayors to get out there,” Regalado says. He points out that Garcetti's predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, was criticized for his amount of travel. And while former mayors Richard Riordan and Jim Hahn (who served only one term) kept traveling to a minimum, Tom Bradley did not.
Says Regalado: “I think it kind of comes with the territory.”
“Serving the people of Los Angeles sometimes means traveling outside the city to represent our interests,” the mayor's spokesman, Alex Comisar, said in a statement. “Mayor Garcetti is proud of the work he has done to fight for our fair share of federal dollars in Washington, bring jobs and investment to our city, build global consensus on combating climate change, and give L.A. a voice on the national and international stages.”
Most recently, the mayor was in Lima, Peru, for five days, along with other city officials and sports mega-agent Casey Wasserman, for the official awarding of the 2028 Olympic Games to Los Angeles.
It was at least the third Olympics-related overseas trip Garcetti has made this year. In April, when the 2024 games were still up for grabs, Garcetti joined Wasserman in Arhus, Denmark, to make the case for L.A. In July, the mayor was in Europe for 10 days, taking in the sights and sounds of our sister city, Berlin, before traveling to Lausanne, Switzerland, for more Olympics-related activities.
“This is the exact thing we’ve been talking about when we talk about the diversion of city resources,” says Anne Orchier, an organizer for the group Nolympics LA, which opposes holding the Summer Games in Los Angeles. “Typically when we bring this up, they say, 'Oh, it’s all privately funded.' But the mayor’s time and his energy and his attention are also things we consider city resources, and those are things we think should be spent on the city of L.A. itself.”
In August, Garcetti spent 13 days on the East Coast, a trip that was both business and pleasure — a family vacation in the Berkshires and a bit of campaigning for Joyce Craig, a Democrat running for mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire. On that trip, Garcetti attended a cocktail party at billionaire Ron Perelman’s house in the Hamptons. Politco took this as a sign that Garcetti is definitely, 100 percent maybe thinking about running for president in 2020, or something like that.
“He’s an up-and-comer, there's no question about that,” Regalado says. “There’s a lot of people that are going to be in his ear about his next political move.”
“He obviously wants to play a leadership role in the Democratic Party, nationally,” says Garcetti political consultant Bill Carrick. “That’s part of the motivation. Part of it was, he got these invitations. That was the reason he went.”
Critics see the mayor's travel schedule as a sign of misplaced priorities. Orchier says that instead of jetting around the country, the mayor should be concentrating on the city's ever-rising homeless population.
“A crisis of this level demands 100 percent of this attention, not 66 percent,” she says.
“I understand Eric’s presidential aspirations,” says budget advocate Jack Humphreville, “but I wish he’d spend more time learning how to balance the budget. We're looking at an enormous shortfall next year.”
Yet Garcetti has escaped the level of criticism that dogged Villaraigosa.
“He’s probably not as controversial as Antonio,” Humphreville says of Garcetti. “One, he’s got a better economy. Second, he’s kept his nose clean. He’s not sleeping with newscasters.”
Villaraigosa was criticized throughout his two terms for frequently traveling. The Los Angeles Police Protective League, for instance, voiced concern that Villaraigosa was jetting off to South Africa a day after he was sworn in for his second term. The police union pointed out that the city must pay for travel expenses for the mayor's security detail. According to a press release by the union: “When Villaraigosa vacationed in Reykjavik, Iceland, and London for 10 days last summer, the officers' travel costs were $10,650, according to city expense reports.”
LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein declined to say how much it costs for the mayor's security detail to travel with him, saying, “We don’t give out that information, because it poses a security threat.”