By David Lim
Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti ’88 announced his candidacy for mayor on Sept. 8 to replace term-limited incumbent Antonio Villaraigosa in the March 2013 election. Garcetti, who has represented the 13th District since 2001, has entered a race that has become increasingly crowded early on with three of the nine declared candidates currently elected officials.
Harvard-Westlake parent Austin Beutner (Austin Jr. ’14) resigned as deputy mayor before declaring in April that he would run for mayor.
Garcetti said that he did not plan to go into politics “until the day [he] decided to run for city council.”
“I always knew I wanted to bring about a more just and analytical world,” Garcetti said. “I thought I might do it internationally. I thought I might do it in government or non-profits, but I probably didn’t think that I’d do it in local government. Maybe when I look back, all the things I learned [at Harvard School] led me there, but it wasn’t a conscious plan, it was more of a decision at the moment it felt right.”
Garcetti said that his time at Harvard School impressed upon him the importance of education, which remains a focus of his campaign.
“Opportunities that were all given to students and alums of this great school make me want to help provide that for every young person in Los Angeles, whether they’re lucky enough to go to Harvard-Westlake or whether they’re in a neighborhood public school,” Garcetti said. “I’m here because of my education.”
After he graduated from Harvard School, Garcetti went on to study at Columbia where he received his B.A. in urban planning and political science and later an M.A. in International Relations. He was also studied at Oxford University and the London School of Economics as a Rhodes Scholar.
In his senior year at Harvard School, Garcetti was elected a prefect in charge of the eighth grade class. At the time, prefects were all seniors and oversaw a single grade, said Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra, who supervised Garcetti and the other prefects as Dean of Students.
“I remember very much getting in some good fights and getting some advice,” Garcetti said of his relationship with Salamandra as a prefect. “When I was there, you had to wear collared shirts, and you couldn’t wear jeans. I think you can wear t-shirts and jeans at Harvard-Westlake because of our work.”
Salamandra also sponsored the Amnesty International Club in which Garcetti was involved.
“Social sciences were really his forte and interest from what I recall,” Salamandra said. “I wasn’t really surprised he got into politics because even something like Amnesty is social issues. He seemed to always care, and this was obviously who he was as a person. He was a caring, altruistic-kind of person.”
History teacher David Waterhouse had Garcetti as a senior during his first year teaching Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics and also as a junior in AP United States History.
Waterhouse recalls a recent conversation he had with his former student at an alumni event.
“[Garcetti] said he developed his love for politics and government from my classes, and I said, ‘You must have gotten it from your father,’ and [Garcetti] said, ‘No, my father really wasn’t very political.’ At that time, when he was high school, I think his father was an assistant district attorney and supposedly had no political aspirations,” Waterhouse said.
Garcetti’s father, Gil Garcetti, served as Los Angeles County’s District Attorney from 1992 to 2000.
“[Garcetti] says that was when he really got interested in politics and government, and the rest is history,” Waterhouse said.
Waterhouse’s impact on Garcetti extended outside of the classroom as well, Garcetti said.
“He was somebody who really encouraged us to look at the world around us, locally, statewide, nationally and internationally,” Garcetti said. “[Waterhouse] really encouraged us to get involved in community service, which was a defining thing in my childhood, whether it was doing cleanup Tree People up the street, learning about the environment, or something called the downtown project, working with the homeless to feed them and help them get off the streets.”
Garcetti also got to know Waterhouse during political discussions at lunch as part of the Junior Statemen of America Club. Junior Statemen of America is a national organization where members debate political issues and run for election at conventions.
“It was the first year I did it, when Eric was probably a junior and I was just floored by the fact that Eric would just get up there, basically the moment we walked into the building, or the hotel,” Waterhouse said.
“I was still looking around and trying to figure out what was going on and the next thing I know [Garcetti’s] up there speaking on some subject, with no hesitation whatsoever in front of a couple hundred people,” he said. “You could see that he liked to talk to the people and that he had his opinions on things and that he was really outgoing, a leader type.”
Looking back at his days at Harvard, Garcetti recalls in particular an assembly at which then-mayor Tom Bradley spoke.
“I’ll never forget that day, and I never would have dreamed I would be in the position to be one of his successors, to be in the same place,” Garcetti said.