Editorial: The petty cruelty at City Hall reflects poorly on our lame-duck mayor

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 02: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses a press conference while he signs his 2021-2022 budget flanked by LA City council members in the Tom Bradley room of Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday June 2, 2021. City Hall on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times).
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses a press conference on June 2. (Los Angeles Times)

It was bad enough when it came to light last week that Mayor Eric Garcetti’s chief of staff had posted sexual innuendo and denigrating comments about city employees and politicians on a private Facebook group shared by mayoral staff and supporters. But the latest news, that Ana Guerrero also disparaged 91-year-old labor icon Dolores Huerta, among other respected Latino political leaders, raises the question: Is this City Hall or high school?

Garcetti was already under scrutiny for allegations that his office fostered a toxic workplace culture. Last year, Garcetti’s former bodyguard, Matthew Garza, sued the city, alleging he was sexually harassed by one of the mayor’s top aides, Rick Jacobs, and that the mayor did nothing to stop it. Garcetti has denied witnessing inappropriate behavior by Jacobs, who has denied harassing anyone.

The private Facebook group, dubbed “Solid Gold,” has come up repeatedly in the depositions taken in the sexual harassment lawsuit, Times reporters Dakota Smith and Richard Winton revealed. Guerrero and others were asked if Jacobs’ behavior was discussed in the forum.

After The Times reported the damning posts about Huerta and others on Tuesday, Garcetti announced that he asked Guerrero to “step away from her executive management responsibilities in the office so that she can make things right with the people addressed in these comments.” She’ll be on administrative leave for the foreseeable future, without pay for the first month.

Garcetti also tried to make amends himself, calling Huerta to apologize. That’s a good start, but perhaps too little, too late.

His aides' bad behavior reflects poorly on Garcetti. The mayor sets the tone for his office. The online comments were petty, crude and just mean. That kind of behavior — even if it’s intended to be a private venting among friends — should be both deeply embarrassing for those directly involved, and for Garcetti, by association.

Garcetti has always cultivated a nice-guy image. He’s polite and positive, including exhorting residents to “lead with love” during the pandemic. He’s loath to pick public fights and he fancies himself the diplomat of Los Angeles government. But City Hall insiders have long observed that Garcetti maintained that cool detachment while surrounding himself with a circle of advisors — like Jacobs, Guerrero and his wife, Amy Wakeland — who were said to be the bad cops to his good-cop routine, threatening political opponents or holding grudges.

The mayor created the culture in his office, and there’s no way he can disassociate himself from the toxic spillover now on display. If the mayor’s chief of staff and a cadre of top aides were regularly engaging in malicious banter online, how were they treating their colleagues in the mayor’s office? What about constituents and fellow political leaders? (You have to wonder why these private posts from 2016 and 2017 are being leaked now, when President Biden is considering Garcetti for the job of ambassador to India.)

The posts reveal an insular us-versus-them attitude among his top aides. How could that not affect the mayor’s ability to build partnerships and advance policies? And now that the posts are public, how will that affect Garcetti's relationships and productivity going forward?

Last month we urged Garcetti to finish his mayoral term, rather than dash off to India, and to throw himself into the essential work of leading Los Angeles. But with scandals and distractions, it’s hard to see Garcetti rising above lame-duck lethargy.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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