Challenger for Los Angeles mayor wants Garcetti to pledge not to run for higher office in 2018

If Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wins reelection in March, he’ll get another chance to lead a city bounding back from the recession, but also facing urgent problems like homelessness and rising crime.

A second term — which would end in 2022 — could allow Garcetti to focus on L.A.’s bid for the 2024 Olympics as well as adding more housing and transit lines in the nation’s second-largest city.

But Garcetti will also face a choice: whether to launch a costly and time-consuming campaign for governor or to focus exclusively on the work of a second term.

With the March 7 mayoral election looming, one of his opponents in the race wants Garcetti to pledge not to run in 2018, the year Gov. Jerry Brown steps down.

Public affairs consultant Mitchell Schwartz believes the mayor should serve at least a full year if reelected rather than jump into the governor’s race or another 2018 election.

Schwartz argues that L.A. needs a full-time leader to address the city’s homelessness crisis and problems at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He also said voters deserve to know Garcetti’s plans.

“You can’t be mayor while you’re running,” Schwartz said. “You would barely be serving.”

Political experts say it’s not uncommon for long-shot challengers to ask an incumbent to serve out his or her term. The demand also highlights the pressure facing Garcetti, who has limited statewide political options in the coming years and must decide quickly if he wants to run for a seat.

If Garcetti passes up the governor’s race or a possible 2018 U.S. Senate bid, “it’ll be six or eight years before a top-of-the-ticket opportunity becomes available,” predicts Dan Schnur, who teaches communications and leadership courses at USC.  

As Garcetti pushes to raise cash for his mayoral reelection bid — he’s scheduled to appear at fundraiser with Joe Biden this weekend, where photo ops with the vice president are being promised for donors who bring in $10,000 — the mayor has said little publicly about his ambitions. 

“He’s taking one election at a time,” Garcetti political consultant Bill Carrick said. “He hasn’t made any decision about running for any political office other than the mayor’s office.”

Carrick called Schwartz’s pledge demand a “political stunt,” and suggested that Garcetti’s opponent “talk about serious issues.”

If Garcetti wins in March and wants to run for governor, he’ll have to immediately start raising money for the race, which has already drawn Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and others as contenders.

Those candidates are already raising significant amounts, with Newsom announcing this week he has $11.5 million cash on hand. Villaraigosa has raised $2.7 million, and Chiang’s campaign said it has $7 million on hand.

Another political opportunity awaits Garcetti if U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein steps down. The 83-year-old politician now holds a coveted position as the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but hasn’t divulged whether she plans to seek another six-year-term in 2018.

A poll conducted by an unknown private group this week and obtained by The Times quizzed voters about Garcetti’s strengths and weaknesses.

The 15-minute phone poll asked voters to judge Garcetti’s leadership on issues such as schools, homelessness and spending. The survey also asked about voters’ support of Garcetti, and whether they have a negative or positive view of Schwartz, Newsom, Villaraigosa and Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Carrick wouldn’t comment on the poll. 

One of ten opponents facing Garcetti in the March 7 primary mayoral race, Schwartz has raised about $255,000, according to contribution filings through Sept. 30.   

Schwartz directed Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in California and has worked on green energy projects and other environmental issues. He volunteered on two of Villaraigosa’s mayoral campaigns and was hired to produce his 2005 inaugural gala. Schwartz said he’s still on friendly terms with the former mayor.

Whoever wins the mayor’s race will get a one-time, supersized term of five and half years, rather than the usual four years, because of a change in election dates.

“I’m pledging to serve a full five-and-half-year term,” Schwartz said.

Some Los Angeles voters may not like the idea of the mayor cutting short his term to run for another office, said USC’s Schnur.

“At the same time, there’s a certain amount of civic pride in thinking about their mayor as a potential governor or senator,” Schnur said.

Making political election pledges can backfire, as seen when Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich lost his seat in 2013. Trutanich pledged to not seek higher office until finishing two terms, but went back on that promise and ran for district attorney, angering voters.

“People do remember that,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.

“I can’t imagine why someone would make a pledge,” Sonenshein added. “Unless your intention is never to leave.”

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