L.A. Mayor is a Life Sentence

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The speculation about Mayor Eric Garcetti’s political future is entertaining—will he run for governor in 2018, or in 2022, or for U.S. Senate when Dianne Feinstein retires? But it’s laughable.

Doesn’t everyone know Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles?

The world is full of change and uncertainty, but there is one immutable law of California politics: the mayoralty of Los Angeles is a dead-end job.

L.A. has been the state’s largest city for approaching a century, and not one of its mayors has been elected governor. L.A.’s greatest mayor, Tom Bradley, came close in 1982. And statewide office has been next to impossible.

Why, you ask? Well, why do they chant “Beat L.A.” in ballparks from San Francisco to San Diego? It’s not because our fellow Californians love L.A. or us Angelenos.

Of course, not everything lasts forever. Antonio Villaraigosa, who was an excellent L.A. mayor in many respects, is running for governor. But the early polls have him well back – which shouldn’t be a surprise.

The speculation around Garcetti is prompted by the unusual nature of the new term he won in the March 7 elections. The term runs for 5 ½ years, the result of an election reform that moved L.A. city elections to even-numbered years so they would line up with the higher-turnout presidential and statewide contests.

Garcetti is ambitious and smart, and he has refused to rule out running for another, higher office. But history will be against him if he tries.

Here’s betting that in 5 ½ years, Garcetti will be sitting exactly where he is now: in City Hall.

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