In U.S. history, no one has been directly elected out of the mayor’s office and into the presidency — but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is “thinking hard” about whether he’d like to try.
“No sane person would run for president, right?” he said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “... This country is in such bad shape. I worry about the country I’ll leave my daughter behind. I worry whether America will lead in this world again. I wonder whether my fellow Americans will have a shot at a better life. I’m really worried they won’t. That’s what propels me.”
It’s a good start to a stump speech, but more concretely, Garcetti thinks he has a shot because leading Los Angeles for the past five years has put him on the front lines of everything from autonomous vehicles to international relations. And although he is a Democrat, he thinks his party has failed to address the realities of technological change in America, while China has invested billions in “artificial intelligence and biotechnology and semiconductors and renewable energy.”
“One of the frustrations I had in 2016 was nobody was really talking about the future in a comprehensive way. Trump obviously was going backwards decades,” he said. “Bernie was bold but they weren’t new ideas and they weren’t necessarily adapting to the world as it is today. Hillary Clinton had a great answer to every incremental question but there wasn’t an overarching vision.”
He told Recode’s Kara Swisher that he also disagreed with Democrats’ propensity to either ignore or “roar back” at President Trump. The way to win in 2020, he said, is to attack the perception of Trump’s strength and efficacy.
“You have to actually diminish him without getting sucked down by him,” Garcetti said. “Yelling back, he’ll win the yelling fight. Ignoring him, he’ll pound you.
“You have to get him off of his game and get him [to] show the person that he often is, which is petty, small, but most importantly, ineffective,” he added. “I think we really have to point out how little he has done ... Whether it’s me or somebody else, I hope it will be people saying, ‘Doesn’t America deserve better?’”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Eric.
Kara Swisher: Today in the red chair is Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, which I love. I actually love Los Angeles. I was driving around today and thinking that. He was first elected to the post in 2013 and was reelected last year. We’re going to talk about the state of local politics, the tech scene in LA and much more. Eric, welcome to Recode Decode.
Eric Garcetti: Thank you, Kara.
Or I have to say Mayor, right? Do I ...
No, no, Eric, please.
Is that okay? Mayor Eric, or?
As I tell my daughter, “That’s just a title for a little bit, I’m your daddy.”
It’s a good title.
It’s an excellent title. So we’re going to talk about a range of things, including national politics, which you have been ... discussed running for president and things like that. Let’s start first in Los Angeles. Talk a little about your background, the people don’t know you.
Go through it just very quickly.
I’m one of these rare natives of Los Angeles, actually a fourth-generation Angeleno. My newest family member to come here was my grandfather, over 100 years ago. But I represent the city’s absolute sprawling and beautiful diversity. I’m half Mexican, half Jewish, with an Italian last name. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, which was where the Brady Bunch home was, and kind of the middle of nowhere and the middle of everywhere, and grew up, you know, pretty anonymously.
I think people think I grew up in politics because my dad later, after I was in college, ran for district attorney, but he was a prosecutor, just a line prosecutor growing up. My mom worked in charitable foundations, and grew up in a very kind of middle-class San Fernando Valley life as “Valley Girl” came out. I thought I always wanted to do something to change the world, but I figured that might be ...
My parents raised me with that. I think my dad was doing that, my mom was doing that. They gave me a lot of free rein growing up, so I traveled to Ethiopia in high school to help out with medical relief work. I, in college, lived in the jungles of Burma with the democratic resistance that was there. I got a degree in human rights that encouraged me and my sister to be exchange students.
[My parents] had met from opposite sides of the tracks here in LA at Pan Am Airlines, and so I think they had a very kind of ...
Yeah, the great Pan Am airlines.
They fell in love, got married six weeks after their first date.
And so the world was a very important place for them, where they kind of fell in love, and they always wanted us to see the world on the streets of our city, and vice versa, to see kind of LA on the streets of the world. So I always felt comfortable almost being anywhere, though I always knew I’d come back home. And taught as a professor, when I came back, diplomacy and world affairs, international human rights work, then ran for city council.
Somebody suggested it to me — my predecessor on the city council’s chief of staff — and she probably suggested it to a dozen people, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was definitely not something I had ever thought of doing. I didn’t know who my city council member was growing up.
But I realized, why am I going [to] faraway places to work on human rights when those issues are right here, and this is the most global city in the world? And I always give this advice to young people, don’t run off to D.C., don’t go abroad, until you set your roots down someplace, because the work you do in America today is as diverse as anything you’ll do around the world, and you can’t grow into that if you don’t start someplace.
Right but ... That was the first time you were in politics.
Yeah, I mean, I had worked on campaigns, I had helped out, you know, my dad in one of his reelections. I had worked for Kathleen Brown’s campaign for governor way back when, when we took a 15 point lead and lost by 15 points.
Yeah, nice. Well done.
Good swing. The nice thing about losing campaigns is everybody stays friends because there’s no spoils to divide. But I, you know, worked against Prop 187 out here, as a Latino seeing that attack on immigrants, prescient to what’s happening now. So I’d been involved in politics.
I thought maybe way later in my life I’d get involved, but at 29, I got a new pair of shoes and started walking door it door, and loved it. It was scary. I don’t like bothering people, but I found myself ... Like, I was going to be a journalist. I actually took a couple ...
Oh, wow. Okay.
... classes at Columbia J School, where I know you went, and then I hated it because I had to ask strangers questions, which is kind of ironic, doing what I do right now.
Right, that’s all you do.
But I loved it when the questions were about something I might be able to do to help them. And I wore holes through those shoes and got elected.
Did you work on the Bronx Beat? Do you remember? That was the thing, they put that out for students there.
No. No, I ... Yeah, the Bronx Beat, actually, yeah, yeah, yeah, that one class I took, I was over at the School of International Public Affairs and cross fertilizing.
So you ... So, when ... You ran for city council and then mayor, what were you hoping to do as mayor?
Well, after 12 years of serving a neighborhood in the heart of LA that really had dramatic turnaround and kind of the Bohemian heart and working-class and immigrant heart of LA, the heart of the LGBT community, I saw the potential of what we could do taking that city-wide, to really revitalize areas without pushing people out of them, to build an infrastructure, thinking about the future, and harness what mass participation can do.
I mean, to the most seemingly unsexy of topics, but things like graffiti, which just wear you down. When we enlisted a few hundred people to help us know where the graffiti was, we reduced graffiti by like 90 percent, and counted that every year.
I think a lot of people are so cynical about government, “There’s no role for me to play in it,” they think. And secondly, they just tell me the good news. And I learned to open up the process, to teach people the basic skills of how City Hall works, to be kind of a teacher like I was before. And even if you teach people who are going to be against you, that’s okay.
And so, as mayor I saw three things in LA. We had taken our eyes off the basic city services. People hire you to run a city, just paving the streets, picking up the trash, all of that. Second was our infrastructure was crumbling, from public transportation to our electrical infrastructure, everything, and I wanted to invest in that for the next 50 years. And three, I wanted to invest in the economy of the future, and I think LA had been very lazy about our legacy.
Because aerospace had been here and then … or, space and Hollywood.
Aerospace, Hollywood, but we were letting those things go away. When Northrop left LA with its headquarters, no elected official besides one, I think, even called them. We were letting other states win ... We put tax credits through to get production, so the studios were still based here, but the productions weren’t.
Right, they were in Vancouver and elsewhere.
And then there’s emerging digital technology, biotechnology, and other industries, like financial services or healthcare, that have always been huge here, but we’ve never marketed them, grown them. So I wanted to kind of strategically build a city, from its infrastructure to its services to its economy.
So, let’s talk about each of those. The issues around city services, they’ve gotten ... I mean, a lot of the big cities, everyone’s living in them, they’re moving more and more to cities. In the next century, that’s all that’s going to ... people are going to be mostly living in cities. And countries like China and others are doing a lot around infrastructure of cities, and how cities are created and formulated.
Obviously, Los Angeles is a real challenge given how spread out it is compared to a San Francisco or a New York or a Chicago. Where do you imagine ... where are we thinking about cities right now? Because in a lot of ways San Francisco, as we talked about before, has become unlivable. There’s a lot going on with homelessness, with all kinds of things, that are really reaching a crisis point in that city. What do you think is the big challenge big cities face?
And LA certainly isn’t immune from those. There’s these increasingly kind of winner cities and loser cities, loser cities that people in regional areas are bypassing, and then these mega cities that everybody is coming to, which is really pushing them past the boundaries in terms of infrastructure, that if you don’t build transportation to accommodate that, and housing, those two things, they can become unlivable.
LA has kind of seized the bull by the horns, and we passed three measures, the largest in the country’s history.
For homeless services, homeless housing, and for transportation. So, we passed a permanent ... Just to give you the idea of the scale, it’s, for the next 40 years, $120 billion, 15 new rapid transit lines at the same time ...
The light transit lines, yeah.
... in a city. A subway, light, and busways, as well as fixing streets, it’s 787,000 jobs — careers I should actually say, because it’s not just a two-year off thing.
And I think that positions LA to build a brand new city. There’s nothing that will be as fundamental to the transformation of a city than how you lay down those networks. And if you build affordable housing around where you put your transportation, you don’t compound the problem, you actually can solve it.
And I do look at cities like in China and other places where the scale of imagination is so much bigger and bolder. LA is one of the few Western cities now to say we can be in that club. And some people want to snap their fingers and say get rid of traffic tomorrow, get rid of homelessness tomorrow. I feel more confident about being able to do those two things in the next decade than we ever have, and I see too many cities around the country where they’re just starting to confront the scale and the magnitude of that problem.
What has happened? Why do you think that has happened to cities like the ...
Well, it depends on which problem. I mean, for homelessness, it’s an expression of a lot of trauma, it’s everything from mental health, and drugs, and PTSD, and emancipation, foster care, and rape, and sexual domestic violence, combined with high rents. I mean, those are the two things, so high rent and trauma combines into homelessness, but you don’t have to be homeless to feel the housing crunch, which is just that people have said “no” for too long.
What’s beautiful to see is there’s an emerging — not spurred on by developers or City Hall — group of residents here that are saying, “Go denser, go higher. I want to stay in this city, I love this place.”
But you know, I was talking to one guy who bought his ... his grandfather bought his house in the San Fernando Valley, $5,000, his dad for $50,000, he works in the film industry as, like, a lighting guy, he bought it for $500,000. But he said, “My daughter, if she has to buy a home for five million, our story ends in LA.”
And so, for me it’s all about the middle class. You have to build middle-class housing. You have to build middle-class wages. You have to build middle-class transportation networks. And I think LA is better poised than any other big city in America to do that.
But I’ve also been networking with other cities, because it’s an exciting time. Washington wants to do $200 billion of infrastructure, and this president’s produced zero.
Nothing, so far. Zero.
The same night Trump was elected, American cities, including ours with Measure M that I just talked about, passed $230 billion in a single night. So part of my message, too, is don’t wait for Washington. There is no cavalry, that’s not the way the country has ever been constructed. And we hope they’ll be better partners, but in the meantime, take action where you are.
That’s interesting. I’m just reading the Andrew Jackson biography to try to understand our state better, it’s the same exact debate that was going ... He’s very different than people portray him, he’s a much more complex political figure than other ...
And he was a builder.
He was, but he didn’t ... The section I’m in now is national versus local infrastructure, and the fight, and he vetoed a bill to do local infrastructure, was potentially pork barrel politics, essentially.
Well, look, and that always can happen, but I think that we all know now, we have the worst communications, transportation and energy networks infrastructure in the developed world.
And imagine if we had Washington leadership that placed assistance in helping local governments get that work done, and then took care of the stuff that no local government can do in rural areas and other places. That’s what our federal government, at its best, has always done.
Right, but has not been doing right now.
Missing in action.
So when you ... So, the issues you face, housing, affordable housing, which goes along with transportation ...
... what do you imagine is your biggest challenge right now, among those three?
I think it’s bringing the cost down. You know, as somebody in tech, most of our tech revolution has been two-dimensional, it’s been how we can communicate with our kids on FaceTime, and, you know, one-click ordering. I think it’s entering the three-dimensional space.
There’s a couple things. One, I want us to be the transportation technology capital of the world, and we’re doing a lot of things to kind of bet on everything.
You just kind of bragged that you’re going to be the first autonomous ...
Nobody’s claimed it. And I think you have to ... Not just the autonomous, I mean, it’s everything.
I think the mayor of Phoenix has, but go ahead.
Greg Stanton? My buddy? Well, yeah, exactly.
I think so.
Not in the best way, but ... Greg’s a dear friend.
But I think there’s no place, when you think of ... the way you think about entertainment in LA, or digital tech up in the Bay Area, or finance in New York, there’s no place that can lay claim, “Oh, that’s the transportation technology capital.” And we’ve got the dollars, innovation, the aerospace, the engineers, like, all of that to try it, from the Boring Company tunneling underneath us, to gondolas to Dodger Stadium, to the more traditional ways, and autonomy.
But secondly, I think the other three-dimensional tech revolution that should be happening is housing. Why is it that we still build things so slowly, so expensive? Now, part of that’s us, it’s either red tape or our own opposition to building something.
The government, you mean?
Or communities, just neighbors saying, “No, don’t build that in my backyard.” So, it’s both.
But the third area where we can really be much more disruptive is we can build things for cheaper. We just got people into housing for formerly homeless Angelenos for about $109,000 a door last month. It’s, on average, $400,000 to $500,000 to do that in traditional ways. So figuring out a way to create land by going high, and you have free land ...
With density, like they do in Europe.
Exactly, or prefab and more factory-style construction is really, I think, one of the areas where we can in California.
To modular housing.
Yeah, modular, or just ... Part of it’s modular and part of it is just we have a lot of specialized people who do specialized things for construction, instead of ... A car doesn’t get sent, have five different types of workers come in to work on it. You have one person on the assembly line, or one group of people, and I think we can do that with housing.
So it’s housing, homelessness, and then creating jobs within the city.
And good wage jobs. I mean, we raised the minimum wage here, biggest city to do it to $15 an hour, which I don’t discount, it’s ...
Did Jeff Bezos copy you? Go ahead.
I hope so. There’s $3.4 million every working hour, is the stat, for about 650,000 families, so that’s ... and disproportionately women. But second, it’s going for the $50-an-hour jobs. I mean, LA ... I don’t want LA to turn into the way Manhattan feels like, you know, the very successful and then the service economy serving them, and nothing in between.
And I think, you know, that’s why passing Measure M was so important. Those are really up the middle middle-class jobs that pay between, let’s say, $30 and $100 an hour. So people can have a home, you know, send their kids to college.
And along those lines, the biggest gap cities have to confront, and our economy does, is the gap between having college degree or not, so we made community college free here, the biggest city in America to do so. And the first year we boosted, out of our public schools, college attendance by 40 percent in our community colleges. So getting that good-paying job is about that pipeline of education, internships, apprenticeships, and just building an economy around those jobs.
So, when you’re thinking about that, you’re almost ... These cities are now, to me, like nation-states, as far as I can tell.
You know, with the running them and doing different things. Very little is iterated from city to city, which I think is ... You know, Mayor Bloomberg was trying to do that with his efforts, the city’s efforts, they’re trying to do ... But the concept is that these are ... where a lot of the change is coming is from these cities, and ideas are coming, versus federally, from doing it for a federal ...
Absolutely. In the past, it was what states were the great laboratories of democracy brand, I said, it’s now cities. And that’s not new. The number of people living in cities is new, the speed of innovation is new, but that’s where politics started. I mean, the Greek word for city is polis, which is the same root of the word politics, and they ... those two places, I think, intersected. You came to the city to engage in politics, and right now that’s where the innovation is occurring deeply.
And I agree with you, it doesn’t spread quickly enough, and so one of the things I did is found a group called Accelerator for America. It isn’t a think tank, it’s a do tank, where we literally put people on the ground saying, you know, Louisville has a great idea, let’s do that in four more cities. LA is doing something cool, you know, can we help Washington, D.C., do that? And putting people on the ground to accelerate that instead of being a decade, maybe in a year or two.
All right. So let me ask you, we’re going to talk about California in the next section, but what do you think you’ve done wrong?
Oh, give me a list. I’m always one to fess up.
Where was your wrongest wrong?
My wrongest wrong was I think in LA, in general, and in California in general, we’ve been too slow to own up to this housing crisis. I mean, I’ve been here on the city council, so I don’t just blame some other administration. But on homelessness, I think another thing we ...
California has most of the homeless people in this country, right? Is that correct? It’s some enormous amount.
Not most, but close to. Close to. And we have the most raw numbers here in Los Angeles, not the most proportionately, but most raw numbers.
I think also deferring too much early on. I’m by nature a small-D democrat ...
Like, let’s build consensus, let’s talk to everybody, when I realized time is really short, people elect you ...
You need to be a fascist.
... just go and make decisions and do it, whether it’s with your own team or sometimes within the city, that too much process can kill. So I kind of learned from that, I hope I’m doing that a lot quicker. But early on it was like, no, let’s talk to everybody, when I find when you actually take action, it changes the conversation, because people see the change.
Just making a declaration.
They might want to fix it, but just do it.
Just make a declaration, like you’d say no more cars in Los Angeles by 2020.
Just saying something like that, it changes the ...
Yeah, something like that, right.
That was going be my whole ...
Is that what you’re proposing?
Yeah, that’s what I’m proposing.
That’s your agenda? Good.
Yeah, I was just going to say things like that, crazy stuff.
You know, I think that the funny thing about being a mayor today is stuff that seemed crazy, like, even two or three years ago, now is normal.
One hundred percent renewable power. We own the largest municipal utility in the United States, our Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and I said 100 percent. Now, five years ago I would have been saying, okay, let’s get to 50 or 60. And just recognizing that, or saying every autonomous vehicle that’s going to come into LA needs to be electric and shared, which is something I think we’re going to announce soon. That, to me ...
Everyone that comes in to Los Angeles?
No, every autonomous vehicle.
Oh, autonomous vehicle.
So, for all the companies that are going to have autonomous shared vehicles, that they all be EVs. And it won’t be too long, I think, before we’re all saying, “Hey, no more internal combustion engines,” except in some very rare cases.
Right. Right, you just have to declare it.
But two or three years ago that was still such a huge stretch.
Let’s talk about California. One of the things that’s really interesting that’s happening in California right now is they’re passing a lot of bills that are national bills around privacy, around diversity, around everything, everything seems to be a nationally based bill. Talk a little bit about that. It seems like California is going to be in a position of governing, in a lot of ways.
I think California doesn’t see the power it has before we exercise it, whether that’s at the state level or local level. I mean, if time’s up on #MeToo, why not do something about it instead of just trying to support survivors who are coming forward? In the city of LA, in six months I made over half of our commissioners for the first time — and there’s about 300 of them that run the port and the airport and the police department — women.
And the public sector’s always seen as slow, right? You know, we do things much slower than private sector, and I said if we could do that in six months, why aren’t you doing it too? So to pass something like that here in California is just ... it’s like desegregating schools. Just do it, and instead of talking about it, I think Californians are much ... we don’t do everything perfectly, but we’re ... We will take that kind of American test it, try it, something new attitude, and it is more concentrated here, I’d say, than almost any place.
So what happens when California’s doing these things? Because I think, again, from the privacy bill, from a tech point of view, a lot of people are calling for more privacy. There’s never going to ... I mean, I just wrote a story in the Times about this internet bill of rights, federally, but no one’s moving to do those things. But California passed probably the most ... the strongest privacy bill in America right now.
Well that’s ... it’s really ...
Which isn’t very strong, by the way.
Yeah, right, it’s a low bar.
It’s a low bar.
It’s like being the tallest building in Dubuque, but it’s ... We’re going to get there. I think that California doing that is absolutely critical, because Washington doesn’t get tech, and I think they look to California for leadership, and we’re doing it to “ourselves,” that’s a really good sign.
Secondly, I think as well that, you know, we’re the folks who ... I think people want to stereotype us as just ... We’re just the big tech companies, as opposed to folks who are ... they’re kind of tech entrepreneurs. And so people who know what they’re talking about, and also value privacy, can actually write the architecture of this well, can redo the architecture of the internet right now, which is based on the data being owned by somebody else rather than a blockchain way of kind of coming down and grabbing your data when you say yes. It’s consent, you know, for privacy.
And, you know, these things that lead the way, I think most people usually copy them coming out of California. And they might not ... They might make fun of them early on, but, you know, Iowa is a red state, and they’re at 31 percent wind power, even though it was California who was talking about it first, so, you know, we’re not so cocky that we don’t learn from other places, or that we’re always the best. I’m not a California supremist, but I do believe that because ...
You don’t want to break the state away? You’re not on that ...
No way. No way.
What do you think of that?
I think it’s crazy. I mean, I do get the argument of splitting it up into pieces, because why should we have only two senators and another state with, you know, one hundredth the population has ...
You get the idea, but you’re not for it, right?
Yeah, yeah. Well, I don’t want to break away from this country. I mean, I love California being part of America, and vice versa. I think we are a vision of America, and right now it’s going to be a Pacific century. We’re going to be this gateway to American ideas. Hopefully American ... America winning that future as well, and instead of retreating from it the way we kind of see out of D.C.
So, California ... Look, California makes mistakes. We overregulate. We sometimes tax too much.
We get in our own way of building things quickly, to our point earlier on infrastructure. But by and large, most things that we do are usually what’s next, and I think it’s what attracts people to come from all over America to live here, and all over the world to come here.
So, I think those things on privacy, on energy, on building infrastructure, creating good middle-class jobs, that’s something that hopefully we can share with America.
And one last point, this BS that suddenly there’s, like, the coasts and the heartland, like, we’ve got so much heartland inside California it’s almost like a mini laboratory for America. The Central Valley, or even in zip codes or neighborhoods in the city right here, even though everybody thinks LA is just, you know, Kardashians and reality shows, we have a lot of bus drivers, nurses, people struggling with the same issues, but we have the ability, I think, to give a vision of belonging that right now a lot of Americans don’t feel.
Right, but most people, when they ... they think exactly that, it’s the elite cultural ... How do you think about that, when they have the elites versus the ... There is that developing within California. How do you change that?
Well, it’s nice being mayor, because I can’t believe that for a second, because most of the people I represent, four million people, are everyday folks, or folks even struggling and hitting hard times. So, we caricature each other across America right now. We caricature by color, by political party, by region, by rural versus urban.
I do think Washington, D.C., has unified us into two Americas, but it’s kind of Washington and the rest of us. And everybody feels a connection with local community, and, you know, we’ll talk more in next segment, but ...
What do you mean? Washington and the rest of us? Meaning ...
Washington is the place that’s fundamentally out of touch in talking about stuff that the rest of America isn’t. We sometimes watch that circus. Some people are consumed by watching the circus. But 90 percent of our work is where are our kids going to school and what’s going on in the neighborhood? What’s the street I drive on like? Is there a park to go to? It’s what kind of job, what kind of dating pool? You know, all those things are local, they’re not coming out of D.C., and D.C. has a conversation that seems completely removed from that.
Even today, I think it’s split us into two countries, really.
Right, so, I’m going to stick with California. So when you ... when these innovations are coming out of California, a lot of people feel that it’s over for the California century, essentially. California did create these big tech companies, it isn’t very long, it’s about 20 years, and most of them are in Northern California, a few down here, but pretty much all the digital innovation happened up there. Now people feel China is overtaking us really dramatically. Do you think that you’re competing more with China, or with the rest of the country?
If you’re obsessed with just digital technology maybe, but that’s such a small slice of our economy. It’s been one that we have a very intimate relationship with, so I think it disproportionately consumes our thinking. When most ... Like, we have more tech jobs here than any county in the Bay Area, but it’s a very diverse set of tech jobs. It’s biotech, food tech, it’s digital tech, it’s entertainment tech, video game tech, aerospace. And so it attracts engineers who like to go between different things.
But there’s no question that you have leadership right now that is not investing in winning the future in this country. I think California, no way is it over. I think we’re still right there, in fact, probably still leading the world. But China has made ... has put down the markers, for sure.
And our advantage is to compete against the ... just, size of China, is being better on immigration, is continuing to have great and open academic institutions, good weather and healthy air, and if we can preserve the better quality of life that we have. I mean, those things ... People make rational decisions whether they’re in tech or not, and the people who are going to drive the economy of the future I think will pick California for the next hundred years if ... and America, if we play our cards right and invest in the right things.
Part of why I want to make LA the transportation technology capital of the world is, you know, you have great companies like Joby [Aviation] and, you know, Boring Company and others who are really pushing the envelope, but shame on us if that innovation happens here and then it mostly gets implemented in China or Dubai or someplace else willing to go first. So I think it’s really important for us to get out of our own way to test these things and to make sure that they take off, you know, no pun intended, here as much as anywhere else.
Talk about the Boring Company, you’ve been very supportive of it.
Tell me why, because, you know, Elon’s sort of in an interesting position.
Personalities all aside, I mean, Elon and I get on very well, it’s the ... I want to test anything that might give us a shot at relieving traffic. So, whether that’s the interconnectivity software, whether it’s looking at VTOLs, vertical take-off and landing vehicles, or whether it’s the Boring Company, we’re kind of saying everybody’s welcome here.
Or the hovercrafts of Larry Page.
Hovercrafts, we haven’t tested those yet, but we had ...
Yeah. Oh, they have one.
Yeah, I know.
And we held a conference here for, you know, Uber Elevate and stuff. Like, I want people to come to LA and figure it out here. It’s a really good place to test things because it’s dense but also wide open. We got the biggest port in America, so if you want to talk about international trade and logistics, a great airport, you know, the aerospace workforce.
We’re still making things here, too. When you look ... And you asked that question about whether this is in the past, I was visiting for manufacturing week last week … Aerojet Rocketdyne, which made every rocket that went onto the space shuttles with a 100 percent record, they’re still making them. There’s 140 jobs open right now. They just hired 180. And you’d think, reading things, oh, California can never support high-wage jobs like that, they’re going to go to someplace where the taxes are cheaper.
What about bringing back manufacturing jobs to the state and to the area?
I don’t know if it’s ever going to be that frame of bringing it back, I think it’s preserving and grabbing the new ones that are there, because they may not, on net, be ever bigger than it is today, because it’s steadily declined. And by the way, most people don’t recognize the decline from about 38 percent of the economy to less than a third of that today, 11 percent, most of that happened between ‘67 and ‘76, half of that. So most of it happened a long time ago. It is where it is.
But now, yeah, when you go to look at welders at Aerojet Rocketdyne, it is folks who are on a screen doing position welding with a machine, not somebody holding, you know, the welding equipment. So, absolutely, I think we’re extremely well poised to do that, as is America. I was in Iowa and visited in Waterloo, Iowa, next to the John Deere tractor factory, some of the ... one of two places in America with the most-cutting-edge 3-D printing. The other one was in Ohio, in Youngstown, where steel mills had closed up.
So this cliché — that it’s only happening at an MIT lab or at Stanford or down here in some aerospace company — actually isn’t the case. So, absolutely, I think we’ll continue to have manufacturing. I put construction with manufacturing for the kind of ... that bucket of decent jobs with something you do with your hands.
But we should be more focused on high-paying service jobs, which is what the story of the last 50 years is. That’s now about 40 percent of our economy, that manufacturing piece is only about 11 percent. So, yes, we need to. I’ve put focus on that. But that usually comes at the expense of, you know, the other ones. And that’s also mining. You know, coal peaked in 1928, we’ve got a president who’s only, like, what, 88 years behind?
Yeah, I know. I know. Every time he says it I want to ... I was in Kentucky and I was like, “You’re not getting your jobs back, and if they’re coming back, the robots will be doing it, and the robots should be doing it.”
Right, because ... I just went in Chicago to the science museum there, and there’s a coal mine you can go down into, and you see when it went from pickaxes, like, in the ‘20s, to machines that did the work of 100 men, so that’s come in ...
Probably they should be doing the work.
Yeah, exactly, and I think it’s better for our lungs that they did.
Yeah, it was interesting. So, I want to finish up this part on California, where do you ... Does California not set the agenda anymore? Because it feels like it doesn’t.
It feels like there’s been a tech lash, like, you know, the tech backlash in terms of the responsibility.
No, I still think we absolutely do, but we’re going to go through in tech what every big industry did, when it was either monopolies or oligopolies that came through, I think that is ... that absolutely is going to happen. But we’re still, no question, setting, or among the lead in setting the agenda in this world.
What are your thoughts on what happened with all these tech companies, all of whom are in California? In the election, and the various backlash to social media.
Well, people forget, California isn’t a liberal state, it’s a libertarian state.
Okay. Libertarian-light, as far as I’m concerned.
It is. Well, I mean, traditionally that’s what it’s been, like, make freeways, let us, you know ... Give us the basic things, bring us water in Southern California, steal it if you have to, give us some power, build some freeways, and then get out of the way.
And I think we still have that ethic among a lot of people who have started companies, saying look, I know this is so disruptive that it empowers me to just, like, say to government, “Get out of the way,” my experience is there was a lot of cities, mayors, political leaders who kind of were either future-phobic, like, “Oh, we have to beat Amazon away and preserve the bookstore.” That never works.
The local retail or taxis or ...
And the second is everybody else seemed to be in a bucket of future-passive. Some were really excited about it, “Oh, the future is going to be awesome!” But just ... “I’m going to stay out of the way.” Or depressed about it, but can’t do anything. And very few were future-guiding.
And so to me this comes around to libertarian, we can’t afford a libertarian age anymore. Tech by itself isn’t going to do something, you always need interpreters, folks who are inside government who understand technology and can say, yeah, there’s issues of privacy, there’s ...
Many of whom don’t.
Most don’t, right.
But that’s why you need them. And vice versa, in tech, you don’t have many people who really look at the 30,000-foot view and all segments of the population needs. They’re looking at their market share. They’re looking at just, “I’ve won, and everybody has an account with me,” and they’re not as concerned with the larger social issues.
We need more interpreters between those two sectors, and I’ve tried to be one of those, who takes, like, a Bird when they come in with 15,000 electric scooters, and people have smiles on their face, and it seems like there’s some car trips being taken off the road, but there’s folks also getting hit by cars. And we say, “Let’s sit down and make these rules together. Don’t just tell me to get lost, and I won’t tell you to get out of my city. Let’s figure out a way to do this together.”
What did you do? You did ... You were doing a sort of middle of the road kind of thing.
We’re allowing those that are there now, and we’re writing the rules.
There’s a lot. I’ve seen a lot.
Yeah, I think 15,000 just from Bird alone.
Yeah, do you ride them?
I have ridden one, yeah.
Yeah, I ride them all the time.
It was fun. It was great, yeah.
I love them.
I mean, it’s ... And I think trying to overly regulate is a mistake, and trying to say just let them disrupt it on their own, inevitably is a mistake, too. So, you know, we’ve ... And we’ve infiltrated that culture inside government. Our metro, which is our MTA system, has an Office of Extraordinary Innovation.
I didn’t come up with the name.
What? Come on.
But it’s basically a place where private companies can come pitch us on transportation solutions. Instead of us engineering the one solution ...
Right, that you have.
... spending two years, you guys bid on it, and it cost two times as much, doesn’t work as well. Literally we have people every day knocking on our door saying, “Here’s a quicker way to finance it. Here’s a new technology. Let us do something between an Uber and a bus, you guys can run it, it’s still in the public realm, but our software will help get that grandmother ...”
So, but it is the privatization of public transport.
No. No, it’s still owned by us.
Because that’s where I think it’s going.
There’s going to be some, but we’re getting pitches as much from private companies who say, “Let us just give you the software,” because if they go out of business, that’s a pretty bad thing for a city not to have an option. But there are bus lines in every city because there’s the two grandmas who really depend on that to get to the store. It only runs once every hour because there’s nobody else on it, and you run it at a very expensive cost, when, you know, you could have something between an Uber and that running, still owned by the city, but maybe contracted in by another company or just their software. We’re looking very aggressively at that.
But my point is you have to put a culture in City Hall and you have to put a culture in companies that we do have to talk to each other upfront when we architect these things.
Let’s talk about you and running for president. So?
So, we’re going to go back and forth with this. So?
It’s, look, this is a moment ...
Were you just in Iowa and then you defended Ted Cruz, I’m like ...
I was just in Iowa, I went to about four or five ... I defended Ted Cruz?
You didn’t show up at the restaurant, you thought he should be able to go to restaurants.
Oh, God, I guess that’s the biggest stretch of defending Ted Cruz, I rarely defend him but yes, I do think we should give people a private space unless they’re crossing extreme, extreme lines.
Anyway, no, I’ve been out there and I’ve been doing that long before I’ve been straight up about thinking about running for president. I’ve been involved in national politics from a local perspective for over a decade. I was a chair of all the Democratic mayors and council members in the country for about five or six years. This year, and I can say this because I’m not running, it is the most important election in our lives.
I’ve been in Oklahoma, Mississippi, places that have nothing to do with presidential considerations. I hope every patriot is thinking about what they can do in 2020 after we get done with elections in 2018. I’ve been straight up that I’ve been thinking hard about it. I don’t know ultimately whether I will or not. I hope some mayors will. In other countries, that’s natural.
Explain why, why is a mayor better suited? A mayor’s never been president, correct? Is that correct?
Folks who have been mayor, but never a jump from mayor. I think like Grover Cleveland and like four or five folks who have been mayors.
Right, yeah, right, right. Was he the mayor of Buffalo? What was he mayor of?
Mayors are executives. He was mayor of Buffalo, good.
Yeah, that’s right, thank you.
I didn’t know you were such a Cleveland fan.
I know things. It’s because I’m not spending my time focusing on the Dodgers.
Exactly. So, you’re saying I’m losing a lot of my brain time.
No, no, it’s fine. You can watch your baseball.
It’s all good. I learn things.
It’s a popular thing. Yeah.
There’s metaphors you get out of it.
See, now I can’t really run for anything because I say I don’t like baseball teams.
I think that mayors run things, they bring people together in a much more non-partisan way. I’m a proud progressive, that’s not a way of saying I’m a centrist, but I also can cross over and reduce the city’s business tax while I’m raising the minimum wage or investing in infrastructure and work closely with Republicans and independents while I’m doing that. If I run or not, I hope some mayors will think about it because I think Americans are fed up with kind of the D.C. reductionist, partisan, tweet, counter-tweet, pretending that’s getting something done.
Well, that’s new. That’s new. That’s Trump. That’s a new thing. It’s not a ...
No, no. Long before Trump. I mean, Fox became Fox, MSNBC, MSNBC, and I’m glad that there’s, I loved living in England when you knew what the paper’s perspective was.
Yeah, the Independent or the Star or the Sun.
There’s no place I can go to watch news anymore. It’s one point, and then it’s made for like an hour. I’m a person who likes getting things done. I like going out there and saying, “Look, homelessness is a humanitarian crisis on our streets.” I’d love for Washington to be involved, it’s not just here, but let’s actually get our hands dirty and go do it.
I think that’s, to people, what they’re looking for in leadership these days is folks that know something about international trade because we run a port, or know something about power because we’re going to 100 percent renewable power in the utility that we own. Right now, D.C. is more interested in those tweets than in our streets. I mean, that’s something that is different ...
Oh, is that your line? I like that. That’s a line.
A little bit of poetry that I, I might have said that at the Women’s March.
Oh okay, good.
He’s sending us tweets, we’re taking the streets. But that was kind of different then.
All right, okay, good, okay.
I want to be the Dr. Seuss of politics.
The tweets seem to be winning, but go ahead.
Yeah, I know. How do we get the streets to win again?
The tweets are good. He’s good at Twitter.
They are good.
Do you use Twitter?
You need to as a presidential candidate, just so you know.
Instagram is my fave, but yeah.
Oh, is it?
Yeah, I like that.
All right. Getting back to the national race, so the reason you would run is because you’re a mayor and know how to run things?
No, I mean the other thing is I want to add some things to the conversation. Three things: One is, I think we’re not talking from the Democratic side about freedom. By freedom I mean economic freedom. I think it’s the most important issue that we face right now is that people don’t feel free. Free to do things, to be things, for their children to soar because they’re so close to bankruptcy and the economic insecurity. So, freedom.
Second is a sense of belonging. I hate using words like “inclusion” and “diversity” and “tolerance.” They kind of imply somebody’s giving you the privilege of being at the table. Cities know about a vision of belonging and I think this country, if you want to run this country, you have to have a vision for this country. Most Democrats, we’re bad patriots. We don’t want to describe something that includes everybody. We want to have like 51 percent of us have our vision win. I think we really need to start thinking about something that includes everybody in a sense of belonging.
I think third is the future. One of the frustrations I had in 2016 was nobody was really talking about the future in a comprehensive way. Trump obviously was going backwards decades.
Where there is comfort.
Bernie was bold but they weren’t new ideas and they weren’t necessarily adapting to the world as it is today. Hillary Clinton had a great answer to every incremental question but there wasn’t an overarching vision. There wasn’t the sense that China with a hundred billion dollars in artificial intelligence and biotechnology and semiconductors and renewable energy, and those are just categories. Who’s talking about the nature of work? Where we’re going to land? Where we’re going to get our meaning? Where we’re going to be unified together? How people are going to move? How people are going to be educated? If we don’t catch up, America doesn’t inevitably have to be No. 1.
No, not at all. I keep banging the China drum. It’s interesting that Trump is focused on the tariffs. To me, he’s focused on plastic toys.
It’s the wrong thing, yeah.
He’s always directionally somewhat correct. Ever noticed that? He’s sort of vaguely right about Amazon being a little bit scary but he focuses on the post office.
It’s always like no strategy. I never say fair trade rules 100 percent where the president and hopefully every American that we need fair trade rules, but with no strategy and going after the wrong things we’re declaring that “New NAFTA” is some big win. No, nothing really changed and you didn’t lead us to any new promised land.
Being president, what qualifies you particularly to do it over this massive pool of people?
Oh, I never assume I’m the only person qualified.
There’s going to be like 412 of you, right?
I think it’s going to be a lot less than people think.
I just think, I’m going through this myself, it’s an intensely personal decision. The politics, the culture is so nasty right now. People have families, people have to consider what they want. You want to look who else is out there too. No sane person would run for president, right?
No sane person would think about it if they had a shot right now because of how bad things are in this country. Having been mayor, I know how much of a sacrifice it is to your life. I love it, I am glad I’m doing it, but you really have to carve out your time with your loved ones, with your friends, with your family. It’s an intense seven-day-a-week job.
Why would you want to do it?
Because this country is in such bad shape. I worry about the country I’ll leave my daughter behind. I worry whether America will lead in this world again. I wonder whether my fellow Americans will have a shot at a better life. I’m really worried they won’t. That’s what propels me.
What makes me qualified is I think mayors do run big things, like I said. I don’t have to be educated about international trade. I know that from the dock workers who feed their families in the port of LA, together with Long Beach, 40 percent of all the goods coming into America. When heads of state are traveling, they come here. Justin Trudeau and I sit down because more Canadians live in LA than any city outside of Canada. Prime Minister of Spain, we engage international relations instinctively.
You’re not saying you can see Russia from your backyard, right?
Oh, no, no, I’ve got really good equipment. I’ve got this drone I send up, I can absolutely see it.
Oh, okay. That didn’t work out well for Sarah.
No, it didn’t. I’ve spent time, 12-and-a-half years as an intelligence officer in the Navy, I used to teach international relations, I know the global picture. I’m really interested in accomplishing things and I don’t think that’s where this president came in.
I think we’re too often as Democrats interested in winning now or yelling back, and most people have a pretty good sense. I’ve never won an election by talking, I’ve always won it by listening, and I think most Americans — most Americans, not all activists, but most Americans — feel nobody’s listening to them right now.
Right, that’s true.
By instinct mayors do that because ... I don’t know if you saw the quote that Mitch Landrieu said when he was asked recently ...
Another possible candidate.
He’s been a great friend and I hope he will consider it. Jeff Flake was confronted by the survivor in the Senate and like, that was pretty intense. His line was like, “No, that’s like eight or nine times on the way to getting milk when you’re mayor.” We kind of know the rough and tumble of things.
That’s true. Yeah.
But I think we stay optimistic enough because we see manifest, concrete changes in our cities every day.
How do you fight against Trump then? I think he’s much more popular than people realize, I think.
Oh yeah, he is. People who hate Trump don’t realize how much he’s also loved. And people who fantasize the latest, outlandish thing that he does, or racist thing that he says, that suddenly people go, “Oh, now, I get it. I was wrong. Let me flip.” It’s going to have to be people who say, “Okay, I like what he’s saying, but I like more what he or she is saying or has done.” It’s going to be people who trust, it’s not just taking down your opponent, it’s outshining them and offering them something better. Americans want us to compete with the best ideas, best experience, best vision and give them a choice. We’re not doing that. We’re saying, “He sucks.”
How can you compete with his sideshow? I mean, it’s a show.
My sense is that there’s been two failed strategies. One which is ignore him and one which is roar back. Neither of them really work. He’s so practiced. Most political campaigns make the mistake of attacking opponents’ weakness instead of their strength. We attacked his weakness of being a racist or a misogynist. What is his strength? It’s kind of a strange strength. Remember John Kerry’s strength was his service. They attacked him, swift-boated him and he lost. His strength is actually the perception of strength itself. That is what he has practiced his entire life. To portray strength. You have to actually diminish him without getting sucked down by him. Yelling back, he’ll win the yelling fight. Ignoring him, he’ll pound you.
Remember when Hillary Clinton, during the debate, he was right behind her and she kind of tensed up. Understandably, it was a creepy thing that he did.
You almost need to turn around, laugh and say, “Get back to your little corner. Thank you.” Or compliment him about like, “You’re an American hustler, you’ve done so great. You’ve been up, you’ve been bankrupt. You’ve been down.” You have to get him off of his game and get him, show the person that he often is, which is petty, small, but most importantly, ineffective. I think we really have to point out how little he has done. He’s out there portraying, “I talked to Kim Jong Un.” Well, what’s come of that?
Taxes. Right, right.
”I’ve engaged with Saudi Arabia.” What’s come of that? China, he has a weird relationship but it’s clearly ... Putin. He loves strong leaders, but if that was producing something great for America, he could make a case. I haven’t seen it. I think we have to be reminded of that.
Right, and so that would be the way to defeat him.
Yeah. A lot of this happens, not over issues, not over debate lines, it’s like a feeling. You know?
I think you just have to be authentic from the beginning. You have to offer a contrast to him, because every election is always a contrast of who came before. Even if they’re popular.
Of course, of course.
We’re not going to have like a fantasy, like a good Donald Trump beat Donald Trump.
It has to be somebody saying something totally different. From me, whether it’s me or somebody else, I hope it will be people saying, “Doesn’t America deserve better? Don’t you want to have a kinder nation? Have a more unified nation where people belong? A nation more focused on the future rather than trying to restore past that isn’t coming back?”
Lastly, the Democratic party, which seems to be in the middle of a crisis.
Of course. On schedule.
As Will Rogers said, “I’m not a member of an organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” People also overthink that political parties are somehow central commands. They never have been. They’re reimagined every two years, across the board.
Well, the Republicans are. They stay in line.
Republicans are better but it’s really the stuff around the Republicans that have been more unified. It’s the whole network and stuff, it’s not the RNC. It’s never going to be the DNC people who want that to be central ship.
What I love, is I’m seeing this decentralized Democratic awakening of folks who are engaged, supporting women who are engaged, supporting folks who have been veterans engaged too, supporting state legislatures or gubernatorial candidates. They’re kind of bypassing the traditional party, which is too bad because we need some meat there especially for those states that get overlooked. Which is why I just raised a million and a half dollars for 10 state parties because nobody raises money for state parties. There’s nothing sexy, no chip to call in. They’re the ones who register people to vote, turn them out, help in redistricting, etc.
I love that there has been more elbow grease, more dollars I think than we’ve ever seen come out of people who are supporting Democrats.
In Democratic ... Yeah, absolutely.
It bodes well for November.
Your prediction for the midterms, then I’ll let you go.
House, knock on wood. And we got three weeks where anything can happen, I think we win with a majority of 10 to 15 seats. I think the Senate is really tough.
The greatest unsung part of this election will be the gubernatorial gains we get. I think between five and 10 gubernatorial houses, gubernatorial seats that we flip including making history with Gillum or Stacey Abrams or Ben Jealous, women in certain states will take back a lot of those purple states. It looks good.
The most important thing is going to be the day after, though. Do we go, “Yay, we did it.” Or do we say, “Double down now. Get ready for 2020 where there’s going to be a five-front war. Win the presidency. Keep the House. Get the Senate. Do the statehouses because that’s where redistricting comes in after the census in 2020. Register people to keep them engaged and involved.”
Yeah, that’s a lot of work.
Yeah, it is.
Mayor Garcetti. Anyway, thank you so much for talking to me. I really appreciate it.
I really enjoyed it. Thanks.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.