Although there was little evidence of it during the campaign, Garcetti’s relationship with organized labor is a very strong and mutually respectful one. In a Nixon-goes-to-China scenario, this might make him the ideal leader to take on the benefit and pension obligations that have created such havoc with L.A.’s budget. Labor leaders might not like the cost-saving measures that the new mayor offers them. But after the backlash directed at them in the May 21 election, they are savvy enough to understand that feeding the flames of public discontent by refusing any compromise with Garcetti could give Riordan’s initiative a populist booster shot that could make it much harder to derail.
Angelenos tend to be very supportive of organized labor and its members, but the recent election demonstrated that voters are also concerned about the role that public employee unions play in local politics. This is a less than ideal landscape on which to wage a campaign against pension reform. Offering a few concessions to a pro-labor mayor might be a necessary way to avoid the much harsher rebuke that Riordan and his allies would put before the voters.
In the days after the election, sensationalistic headlines proclaimed that labor’s influence in Los Angeles would be dramatically reduced. Given the extent to which unions and their members have become so interwoven into the fabric of city life, such dire predictions are drastically overstated. But even though Garcetti and Riordan share little in common, the marriage of convenience between an ambitious new mayor with a mandate and a wealthy former mayor on a mission could shake up this city’s political and budgetary status quo in an unprecedented way.
Dan Schnur is the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.