Even though Eric Garcetti has officially taken office, veteran observers of L.A.’s political scene can be forgiven if they’re still trying to figure out what happened in this year’s election for Mayor of Los Angeles.

Even weeks after the ballots were counted, the head-shaking is seen all around after the election among two Democrats in which the candidate endorsed by Bill Clinton, who campaigned side-by-side with Magic Johnson and was backed by millions of dollars from the city’s largest labor union went down to defeat by almost double digits.

While Garcetti’s win owes its success to many, we are hopeful that even as a loyal Democrat, the Mayor will recognize reality and give special thanks to the strong minority of Republican voters that helped him win – in an election with no GOP candidate on the ballot.

As he prepares to put his stamp on the city, he should acknowledge that without the support of GOP voters – many of whom were represented in the past by his opponent Wendy Greuel when she served on the Los Angeles City Council – is it so certain Garcetti would have won?

According to Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, Greuel won only 51 percent support in the voter-rich San Fernando Valley – where she had easily dominated all other candidates in the primary election.  “In the Valley, Republicans, especially in the western part of the Valley, deserted her,” he said.

One of the main reasons this happened was the by-product of the most sought-after endorsement of this election: Republican Kevin James, who finished third in the primary.  When James enthusiastically threw his support to Garcetti – despite impassioned lobbying by Greuel to endorse her – the election was never quite the same.

It is estimated that Garcetti earned nearly 55 percent of the total votes and an overwhelming 61 percent of the Republican vote.  Most notably, Garcetti defeated Greuel in the west San Fernando Valley area that includes the most conservative Republican neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Despite repeated assurances that Republicans don’t matter in Los Angeles – and GOP voters don’t turn out – the opposite was true this time around.

This is the ironic place and fairly unchartered territory Los Angeles Republicans find themselves – and it’s high time they start taking advantage of it.  There is no reason why the issues of deep interest to Republican voters should not take center stage as the new mayor takes office.

The fact is, despite its outward beauty and vibrant character, Los Angeles is in serious trouble, with an unemployment rate worse than the rest of California, a physical infrastructure desperately in need of repair, a bloated and inefficient government bureaucracy and a looming public employee pension crisis that could drown the city in red ink.

Perhaps most serious of all, the word “bankruptcy” isn’t just whispered in City Hall anymore, and a strong sense of realism hung over this entire election.

Greuel campaigned on making history and shattering glass ceilings (while kicking Republicans around for good measure).  Garcetti soberly (if not specifically) related the many challenges we face as a city.  And more than anything else, he tried the novel approach of actually asking GOP voters for their support.

In the end, for Republicans, it was not a close call.

So where do we go from here?  First, Republican voters must realize that they increasingly hold the balance of power in California’s “top-two” election system that de-emphasizes direct party identification, but places increased importance on organization and ideas.

Next, they should aggressively promote Republican policies and values and make them a valuable currency for any winning campaign.  This will have the added benefit of compelling candidates who aren’t Republicans to court the GOP and bring a new competitive vibrancy to more campaigns.

Finally, Los Angeles Republicans can congratulate their new mayor and call on Garcetti to bring an inclusive manner and common-sense approach to City Hall.  After all, they helped put him there.