Eric Garcetti hugs his wife Amy Wakeland after his speech at the Hollywood Palladium on election night.
Eric Garcetti, the Eastside city councilman of Mexican and Russian Jewish descent, and son of former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, will succeed Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor of the nation’s second largest city.
Garcetti, 42, beat City Controller Wendy Greuel 54 to 46 percent, despite being heavily outspent during the campaign by Greuel and her labor union allies. Those unions spent more than $3 million on her behalf. Garcetti successfully argued the support would make her beholden to organized labor, especially the union that represents Department of Water and Power workers.
“Thank you to the voters of Los Angeles who voted for strong, independent leadership,” an optimistic Garcetti told supporters late Tuesday night at the Hollywood Palladium before the city clerk had released the final results. “We faced some powerful forces in this race.”
Greuel, who turns 52 on Thursday, was hoping for an early birthday present in her bid to become the first woman mayor in L.A. history. An early favorite in the race, she never seemed to find her footing — despite the backing of labor, the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, Magic Johnson and former President Bill Clinton.
“We had something more important,” Garcetti said. “We had a people-powered campaign.” A spokesman said more than 5,000 volunteers helped Garcetti in the final days of the contest.
“On July 1st, we will assume the responsibility of creating jobs, of balancing the city’s budget, of keeping our city’s streets safe and improving the quality of life for all Angelenos,” Garcetti said. “I welcome that responsibility.”
An exit poll conducted by Loyola Marymount University indicated that Garcetti won among the city's two largest voting blocs — whites and Latinos. Greuel dominated among black voters, but they only represent about 12 percent of the city's registered voters.
Greuel delivered her concession speech Wednesday morning, urging her supporters to get behind Garcetti.
"And the one thing I know about Eric Garcetti, is that he cares deeply about Los Angeles, and that he will work tirelessly to be the strong and innovative leader we need at this critical moment in our history."
Garcetti sent out a tweet thanking voters and saying he’s honored to be the city’s next mayor.
Thank you Los Angeles--the hard work begins but I am honored to lead this city for the next four years. Let's make this a great city again.— Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) May 22, 2013
Outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also released a statement. He says he “knows he’s leaving Los Angeles in good hands.”
During the campaign, the well-spoken Garcetti outperformed Greuel in debates. He also touted his record of economic development in his council district and work on pension reform as president of the city council from 2006-2012.
The contest devolved into a slew of negative ads in the final weeks. Greuel attempted to tie Garcetti to a convicted felon. Garcetti’s allies sought to connect Greuel, a onetime Republican, to former GOP Governor Pete Wilson.
Garcetti enjoyed a somewhat privileged life growing up in Encino. He attended elementary school at UCLA Lab School, and junior and senior high school at the private Harvard-Westlake School.
He earned a B.A. and master's in international affairs from Columbia University in New York. He is a Rhodes scholar who studied at Oxford University in England and at the London School of Economics. By his own account, he’s visited 82 countries.
“He brings a broader intellectual background than any L.A. mayor in a long time,” said Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large of the American Prospect magazine and former editor of the L.A. Weekly. Meyerson said Garcetti joins California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom as the state’s new cadre of Democratic Party leaders.
Garcetti’s father beamed as his son, a jazz pianist, spoke to supporters.
“When he was eight years old, he won the grand prize for music composition, and I thought that’s where he was going to go,” the elder Garcetti said.
“My father, an immigrant from Mexico, came to Los Angeles and was always in trouble with the police. And then his son, me, became D.A.,” Gil Garcetti said. “One generation later, my son becomes the mayor. In how many countries could this happen?”
The mayor-elect waxed eloquent during his speech.
“We face real challenges in the next decade of Los Angeles’s history, but we also draw on unequaled greatness to address them — the most diverse, talented and innovative group of human beings anywhere, anytime on the face of this earth,” Eric Garcetti said.
“Throw in some good weather, and we are poised for a comeback.”
He also promised to focus on the basics.
“If you take care of the basics — one block, one street, one neighborhood at a time — we are capable of big things.”
That was the speech Greuel was hoping to deliver. It was more than two years ago that she announced her candidacy for mayor. Her supporters repeatedly said they could not imagine a politician with a better resume for the job.
Greuel’s first job out of UCLA was with the administration of Mayor Tom Bradley — a gigantic political figure who is still revered in the African-American community. Greuel went on to work for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration, and then transitioned to the private sector where she did government relations for DreamWorks Studios.
In 2002, Greuel squeaked out a narrow victory against Tony Cardenas to become the councilwoman in the San Fernando Valley's Second District. She served until 2009, when she was elected to the citywide office of controller.
This story has been updated.