City Councilman Eric Garcetti ’88 will serve as the next mayor of Los Angeles, after defeating City Controller Wendy Greuel Tuesday by a wide margin in an election with only a 19 percent turnout. Garcetti took 54 percent to Greuel’s 48 percent.
Garcetti remembers seeing Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley speak at an assembly while at Harvard School and credits Bradley for “making Los Angeles into a great world class city.”
“Mayor Bradley was this larger than life symbol of a great city,” Garcetti said. “He gave us a great feeling about Los Angeles.”
In addition to Bradley’s accomplishments bringing the Olympics to Los Angeles and starting work on the subway system, Garcetti emphasized Bradley’s adeptness dealing with city politics.
“To be mayor of LA you have to engage people—you have to earn their love and respect but you have to be strong enough to get things done,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti said that his time at Harvard School impressed upon him the importance of education, which was 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.”
Though Garcetti was interested in politics and had lunchtime discussions with history teacher Dave Waterhouse, he said that he cared most about community service projects working at downtown homeless shelters during his high school years.
“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.”
Senior Alumni Officer Harry Salamandra, who advised Garcetti when he was elected a prefect, remembers Garcetti’s interest in social issues through his involvement in Amnesty International.
“He seemed to always care, and this was obviously who he was as a person. He was a caring, altruistic-kind of person,” Salamandra said.
When he was a junior, Garcetti and some of his friends talked Waterhouse, his AP US History teacher the previous year, into teaching an AP Government and Politics class. At homecoming last year, he told Waterhouse that that class was where he got interested in politics.
The young Garcetti left an impression on Waterhouse through his involvement in Junior Statesmen of America, a national organization where members debate political issues and run for election at conventions.
“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,” Waterhouse added.
Garcetti, who said the theater and jazz programs were a significant part of his experience at Harvard School, lamented cuts to arts programs in public schools in the city he calls “most creative spot on the face of the earth.”
“I understood how special a school makes you feel about yourself,” Garcetti said. “If you don’t have facilities that are top notch, you start thinking people don’t care about you. Vice versa, a great football field, a wonderful library and big classrooms makes you think about yourself as someone who can and will succeed.”
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 also studied at Oxford University and the London School of Economics as a Rhodes Scholar.
Though he admits he really enjoyed the time he spent teaching International Relations at USC and later at Occidental, Garcetti has no regrets about leaving the classroom to run for office in 2001.
“I had a lot of time to think about things without any power to do anything about it,” Garcetti said. “I might have the opposite problem now which is a lot of power to affect the world but not enough time to stop and think.”