Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent state of the city address was a downer, to put it mildly. The city faces an array of looming disasters. One in five people live in poverty; housing prices are forcing a middle class exodus; pension costs are rising to 20 percent of the budget; and the public school system is one of the worst around. Mayor Garcetti’s somewhat lame speech has the Economist wondering if he’s the man to bring the city back from the brink:
Few of the pledges Mr Garcetti made last week were costed or came with deadlines. By budget day his campaign vow to scrap the city’s gross-receipts business tax had shrivelled to a plan to snip it from 0.51% to 0.425% over the next four years (although he continues to promise its elimination). Sceptics grouch that they have no idea what the mayor spends his time doing. […]In a city not known for restraint, Mr Garcetti’s approach can be refreshing. But it is too soon to determine whether it is working. A sterner test than he has yet faced may lie before him, in the form of one of the disasters, natural or man-made, that befall the city from time to time, or a fiscal crunch that could force a hard decision on taxes (vast deficits are projected for years). If not, his challenge will be to demonstrate that his modest proposals are enough to tackle Los Angeles’s deep-seated problems.
As head of the LA City Council (2006–12) Garcetti’s lack of a record and non-confrontational approach aroused suspicion that he was studiously avoiding conflict just to pave his road to the mayor’s office. Now, with so many municipal crises at the fore, Garcetti’s continued reserve and restraint has incurred much of the same grumbling.A poll-driven, risk-averse administration wouldn’t exactly distinguish Los Angeles from many other struggling cities bereft of real leadership. But with so many social and fiscal time bombs threatening the lives of the city’s poor and middle class, career-obsessed mayors are the last thing Los Angeles needs. Here’s to hoping that Mayor Garcetti proves his skeptics wrong.