Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and more than a dozen other newly-elected mayors met for 90 minutes with the president and vice president Friday at the White House. Mayors from Seattle to St. Petersburgh to Detroit talked about everything from income disparity to early childhood education.
President Obama said the goal of the meeting was to "get a clear sense of what their vision is and how they’re trying to deliver services." He also made a familiar partisan pitch for raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits.
The mayors did more than just ask for federal dollars; they offered their ideas about what cities are doing to make government work.
In an interview before the meeting, Garcetti said the relationship between cities and Washington has shifted, with municipalities putting local dollars and ideas on the table. In the 1960s and '70s, he said "it was about how can Washington save American cities." Now, according to Garcetti, it’s the opposite: "It’s how can American cities save Washington."
It’s not that L.A. doesn’t want Washington’s money. But Garcetti said the city comes with cash in hand, looking for a federal partner to help finish the light rail line to the airport, revive the L.A. River and fight homelessness. He pointed to the half-cent sales tax L.A. voters approved for transportation and the $200 million the city has kicked in on the river project — money that gives the city clout when asking for federal dollars.
It doesn’t hurt that Garcetti has a personal relationship with the president. Garcetti chaired his 2012 California campaign. He said there's mutual trust: "I think he knows that I have his back." Garcetti hasn't called in any chits yet, but said the President "respects that I hustle for my town" and has been "incredibly receptive" to the mayor's overtures.
Garcetti will be back in Washington to make the case for L.A. in January.