Scandalous mayoral tenure of Eric Garcetti, the new U.S. ambassador to India

| Updated: 16 March, 2023 7:36 pm IST

The United States has finally announced its ambassador to India. Former Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, got the job over two-and-a-half years after his name was first announced for the ambassadorship.

Just a day before his nomination got through, his former aide Naomi Seligman told CNN that he was unfit to be the ambassador of India because of his poor record as a public official during his tenure as the Mayor of Los Angeles.

“He is unfit to become an ambassador or really to hold public office anywhere in this country or this world,” Naomi Seligman, a former communication director for Garcetti, told CNN.

Garcetti, a Joe Biden loyalist, is accused of enabling sexual harassment and bullying during his time in the office

Garcetti was appointed as ambassador to India by the Biden administration in 2021.

His nomination process has been marred by allegations of enabling sexual misconduct during his tenure as the Mayor of Los Angeles.

Several Democrats voted against confirming his nomination, but he was backed by seven Republicans to become the top diplomat with one of Washington’s critical strategic partners.

Garcetti, a Joe Biden loyalist, was seen as one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars until about five years ago.

Garcetti previously served as the Mayor of Los Angeles from 2013 to 2022, however, the last years of his nine-year-long Mayoral tenure were rocked by scandals, which almost derailed his ambassador bid.

During his mayoral tenure, Garcetti was heavily criticised for homelessness in Los Angeles. A study released in 2019 by the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) found that homelessness compared to the previous year (2018) surged by 16 percent to nearly 60,000 homeless on the streets of LA.

Peter Lynn, head of LAHSA who saw homelessness rise 33% during his five years in spite of $780 million in additional funding, resigned from office at the end of 2019.

The number of homeless in Los Angeles County was 51,340 in 2011, of which 23,539 were in the City of Los Angeles, and 4,316 were in the 50-block area east of downtown Los Angeles known as Skid Row.

Skid Row is a neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles. Skid Row contains one of the largest stable populations (about 9,200–15,000) of homeless people in the United States.

Within the LAPD Central Area, which includes Skid Row and other areas in Downtown Los Angeles, crimes in Skid Row constituted 58.96%.

A UN report in the past compared Skid Row’s conditions to a Syrian refugee camp. In its January 2013 census, the total estimated number of homeless in Los Angeles County was 57,737, including persons sleeping on private property with permission to stay no more than 90 days.

There are an estimated 4,021 homeless young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 on any given night in Los Angeles County as of 2019, a 22% increase over 2018.

In June 2019, Los Angeles County officials reported over 58,000 homeless in the county.

Under Garcetti’s mayorship, Los Angeles spent $619 million on the 36,000 homeless in 2019, approximately $17,194 per homeless person, however, homelessness numbers continue to grow.

Garcetti has also been criticized for his record on police misconduct, transportation, and housing, however, the biggest setback for him came in the form of sexual misconduct allegations against a top aide, whom Garcetti was accused of ‘not acting against’.

In 2020, a lawsuit was filed against Rick Jacobs, a key aide of Garcetti, by a police officer and Garcetti’s bodyguard Matthew Garza. Garza alleged that Jacobs touched him inappropriately and made “crude sexual remarks”.

Garcetti has repeatedly insisted that he did not know anything about the alleged misconduct, however, his opponents have alleged that he either knew about the allegations or did not act on them.

On March 13, Garcetti’s former communications director, Naomi Seligman told CNN, “He is unfit to become an ambassador or really to hold public office anywhere in this country or this world”, over the Jacobs episode.

Another scandal that took place under the mayoral tenure of Garcetti was the case of Jose Huizar, a former member of the Los Angeles City Council.

In November 2018, the FBI served search warrants on Huizar’s City Hall office and his residence. LA City Council President Herb Wesson gave notice and removed Huizar from all of his committee assignments.

On May 28, 2020, Mayor Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez had to call on Huizar to resign.

In 2020, Huizar’s close aide, George Esparza, pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge involving a billionaire developer who sought to build a 77-story skyscraper in Huizar’s district.

Finally, in January 2023, Jose Huizar pleaded guilty today to federal criminal charges for using his powerful position at City Hall to enrich himself and his associates, and for cheating on his taxes.

Another City Hall corruption scandal focused on the L.A. Department of Water and Power (DWP) and the City Attorney’s Office, following a 2019 FBI raid that targeted DWP and an internal scheme to rig DWP contracts and pay millions of dollars in a kickback to a private attorney, Paul O. Paradis.

Biden first nominated Garcetti in July 2021, and the Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing in December 2021. But Garcetti’s nomination later came to a halt amid the Jacobs episode. Biden re-nominated him in January. Garcetti and the White House pushed hard for final confirmation, with his parents even hiring a lobbyist to help him get over the finish line.

Garcetti’s parents, Gil and Suki, spent $90,000 of their own money on lobbyists for him through the end of last year. It’s also why he enlisted scores of staffers to sign petitions, and letters and make calls to senators attesting to his character. And it’s why Biden’s top legislative affairs staffers, Louisa Terrell, and Reema Dodin, along with Garcetti, scrambled into the final hours to secure a few more votes.

Meanwhile, on social media, a video has surfaced that shows Garcetti telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Maryland’s Democrat senator Ben Cardin during his confirmation that he would bring up human rights and discrimination such as via the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as a “core” piece of his engagement rather than as an obligation.

“There are groups that are actively fighting for the human rights of people on the ground in India that will get direct engagement from me. We know that democracies are complicated and we can look at our own and at India’s but it is a cornerstone of our shared values,” Garcetti told Cardin in the video from 2021.

In September, The New Indian was the first to flag the problematic nomination of Garcetti. Ambassador-designate Garcetti is believed to be not just US president Joe Biden’s most trusted man but a confidante of the CIA as well. With Garcetti in Delhi, Washington will execute its “South Asia plan”, said sources.

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