Earlier this week, Eric Garcetti summoned reporters to his third-floor office inside Los Angeles City Hall to tout a reorganization.
He said he is requiring city managers to reapply for their jobs and detail goals for improving their departments. Then, almost off-handedly, he mentioned diversity.
“We have diversity programs that date back to the 1970s,” he said.
"The model back then, " he added, "was to get one person of each color at each thing,” Garcetti explained. “I want to get past that kind of tokenism towards a broader diversity.”
In an interview later, Garcetti said people still think in terms of four broad categories: black, white, Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander. He said that doesn't begin to touch on the city's diversity.
“There are Mexican-Americans who speak Spanish as their second language, after an indigenous language,” he said. Many Guatemalans in Los Angeles speak Quiche. How can he improve their access to City Hall? Garcetti asked.
“We need to think more robustly about diversity,” Garcetti said. “So much of the playbook is just old.”
He also said he doesn’t like using “minority” in a city where Latinos are the majority.
There are reasons Garcetti talks differently about diversity than his predecessor. At 42 years old, he is nearly two decades younger than former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Garcetti is also half Latino, half Jewish and has an Italian last name.
The Ivy Leaguer and Rhodes Scholar focused on ethnic conflict and nationalism in his academic work and has lived abroad.
It's unclear how Garcetti’s impassioned words will translate when it comes to filling hundreds of positions on city panels and commissions.
“I don’t yet have the specific plan,” he said. “I just know that we’re going to be looking at more than just, ‘Oh, make sure there’s one of every color on every commission and the box is checked.'”
He said the “economically disenfranchised” should be represented, too.
“On balance, we are going to have as diverse a group of commissioners and City Hall staff as we’ve seen,” he promised.
He said he is also annoyed at the practice by some businesses of including minority-owned subcontractors on bids to win city contracts, but never hiring those subcontractors.
"I’ll be looking into that,” he said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the indigenous language spoken in Guatemala.