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Bennet Kelley Headshot

Why I Am Not Voting for Eric Garcetti for Mayor

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I have known Eric Garcetti since before he was first elected to City Council when we were involved in the west coast launch of a young progressive group called Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century. It may come as a surprise to some, however, that I am not voting for him in the mayoral runoff against Wendy Gruel.

My decision is not because I view Eric as a "wonky idealist" as the LA Weekly dismissively calls him. There is no question that when we first me, he was a university professor and uber-wonk, but this was in the twilight of the Clinton years when it was still hip to be a wonk.

The reality is, however, that when the people of Echo Park, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Little Armenia and the rest of the 13th District elected Eric over former mayoral candidate Mike Woo in 2001 (and reelected him twice), they did not elect the wonk but the neighbor who knocked on their doors and listened to them.

Few of us thought Eric would win at first, but he did. That's called having vision and courage, qualities not easily found in politics. When the new city councilman decided to use one of the city's electric cars for transportation long before the emergence of hybrid chic, we chuckled at Eric's quirky idealism but that is what leading by example is all about.

What is so wrong with idealism anyway? It inspires and motivates people to get involved and do great things. Isn't that what is sorely needed in Los Angeles today?

My choice also has nothing to do with the fact that Eric does not have business experience or has not held elective office outside of the City Council like City Comptroller Wendy Gruel. I seem to recall that Mayor James Hahn also was a city comptroller, so the office is hardly a harbinger of success as mayor.

Having also studied urban planning as Eric did, I have found that the great American mayors, like Baltimore's William Donald Schaefer, were not just technocrats who cared about every little detail but individuals who wore their love of their city on their sleeve. Twelve years of walking the neighborhoods of Los Angeles has transformed Eric from the wonkish professor into an evangelist for the City of Angels. Those of us in the tech community, for example, applaud Eric for his enthusiasm for the emerging Silicon Beach tech hub, promotion of the "T-expo" corridor and using mobile apps to connect with constituents.

My choice also has nothing to do with the concern that Eric may be destined for greater things and that the mayor's office may be just a launch pad to the governor's mansion or even Washington. I too believe that Eric is one of the party's rising stars because of his vision, leadership and passion but these are the same qualities that would make him a great mayor. Any concern about his future ambition should be tempered by the reality that his political future would be tied to how well he performed in serving his hometown.

The reason I am not voting for Eric is more fundamental. I live in neighboring Santa Monica and not Los Angeles and (are you reading this Ann Coulter) it would be illegal for me to vote in a race where I am not a resident.

But if you live in Los Angeles, I hope you will vote for one of the most promising candidates of this generation and a true leader who is ready to make Los Angeles the American city to watch - Eric Garcetti.