A photograph showing one of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s closest advisors making a sexually provocative gesture, while the mayor stands nearby, raises new questions about Garcetti’s contention that he had no knowledge of inappropriate behavior by former Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Jacobs.
The picture, obtained this week by The Times, shows Jacobs placing his hand near the crotch of a civic activist as the two posed for a group photo at the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention in June 2017. Garcetti stands next to the two men, smiling and giving a double thumbs-up gesture.
In an interview Friday, the man said Jacobs did not touch him. He said that when he was shown the photo later that evening he found it offensive and felt Jacobs should be ashamed of his behavior.
The Times is not releasing his name and has blurred his face in the photograph because the newspaper generally does not identify those who may have been the victims of sexual misconduct.
Jacobs has been under scrutiny since July, when one of Garcetti’s bodyguards accused the key mayoral ally of sexually harassing him many times over the course of several years. LAPD Officer Matthew Garza said the mayor witnessed the inappropriate behavior — which included unwanted touching and crude comments — but did not stop it.
In October, three other men came forward with accusations that they had been targeted by Jacobs’ unwelcome touching or harassment. One of the alleged victims was Yashar Ali, a journalist who wrote about the mayoral advisor’s aggressive behavior.
A lawyer for three former city employees provided the photo to The Times this week. The workers said in a joint statement that they believe the picture illustrates “years of grotesquely inappropriate predatory behavior that Mayor Garcetti tolerated and enabled, to the detriment of his staff and colleagues.”
All three of the former employees declined to be named, saying they believed that they could suffer retaliation by Jacobs or others who remain loyal to the mayor. The photo was taken by another individual in the mayor's orbit and had been shared by at least a dozen people close to Garcetti over the last three years, the sources said.
Garcetti said in statement emailed to The Times that he had not known about the 2017 incident captured in the photo.
“Mr. Jacobs' behavior in this photo is totally inappropriate,” Garcetti said. “I did not see him do this and I had never seen this photo before the L.A. Times sent it to our office yesterday. Jacobs no longer represents me in any capacity and has not worked in the Mayor’s Office since 2016. We have now sent this photo to the independent law firm hired by the city attorney.”
Jacobs, who took a leave last month from his volunteer political work for Garcetti, said Thursday in an email that he could not “recall the circumstances of this photo.”
“What I do know is that I would never intentionally ‘harass’ someone. If I have hurt anyone, I sincerely apologize to them,” Jacobs added.
The latest revelation about Jacobs comes at a delicate moment for Garcetti, who is reportedly a leading candidate to become U.S. secretary of Transportation under President-elect Joe Biden.
Jacobs raised millions of dollars for Garcetti’s 2013 mayoral campaign and was a top City Hall deputy before stepping down in 2016. At that time, the mayor called Jacobs "a longtime trusted friend and advisor" and "an extraordinary asset to my administration during my first term as mayor."
Jacobs remained loyal to Garcetti after leaving City Hall, in part because of his work supporting the mayor's two nonprofit ventures, the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles and the Accelerator for America. The fund supports mayoral initiatives, such as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while Accelerator for America promotes economic development across the U.S.
Since the allegations against Jacobs first arose during the summer, Garcetti has said he never witnessed the sexual harassment described by the LAPD officer and others. The mayor in July called Jacobs “a committed public servant” and said he should be able to continue working for the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund while the sexual harassment allegations were investigated.
This week’s statement made clear that Garcetti is now intent on putting more distance between himself and his longtime confidant.
The allegations against the top advisor have been awkward for Garcetti, because he has positioned himself as a leading defender of the victims of sexual abuse and harassment. In the midst of the national #MeToo movement in 2017, he ordered new reporting protocols, unveiled a website for city employees to lodge allegations and hosted a panel on sexual harassment and assault.
The individuals who sent the Jacobs photograph to The Times said it had been circulated among at least a dozen friends and allies of the mayor. They said they joined together to make the photo public because they believe the mayor’s private actions have not lived up to his public pronouncements.
“Many of us who worked for the mayor witnessed it and were subjected to it over and over again,” the statement by the onetime employees said, referring to Jacobs' alleged bullying and aggressive behavior. “Not only did the mayor take no action to stop it, he refused to acknowledge it."
The statement went on to say that Garcetti "expressed no concern for the many ways" in which Jacobs' alleged abuse affected the employees' workplace interactions and "damaged our emotional well-being.”
All three of the former employees acknowledged that they never brought their concerns about the alleged sexual misconduct directly to Garcetti. But they claim Jacobs' bullying and sexually aggressive actions were widely known inside the mayor’s office, and that discussions about the advisor’s misbehavior were common in the office's top echelons.
Two of the sources said they made clear to the mayor's chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, that a major reason behind their departure from Garcetti's office was that Jacobs had made working there unbearable. Guerrero declined to comment, with a mayoral spokesman citing the ongoing investigation into the complaints.
Writing more generally about their concerns, the former employees added: “The ethical standards that Mayor Garcetti had set for his administration along with his strong #MeToo rhetoric made it crystal clear that he needed to intervene but he failed to do so. He’s acting now only because his political future is on the line, when the interests of his staff and his own values should have been paramount long before.
“Not only did the mayor take no action to stop it, he refused to acknowledge it,” the statement continued. “He expressed no concern for the many ways in which Jacobs’ abuse affected our workplace interactions and damaged our emotional well-being.”
Confronted with claims about Garcetti's inaction, the mayor’s office emailed an additional response.
"I have never witnessed any sexual harassment by Rick Jacobs and I was not told about any allegation until the Garza lawsuit,” Garcetti's statement said. “Neither my office nor the Personnel Department has ever received a sexual harassment complaint involving Mr. Jacobs. Had I been aware of any allegation, I would have taken action to address it. In my life, I have taken and always will take all forms of harassment extremely seriously.”
The statement added that Garcetti’s “heart goes out to, and I deeply care about, people who are victims of harassment, and I hope that anyone who experiences sexual harassment feels empowered to come forward and seek justice.” He urged anyone subjected to misconduct to report it to the city Personnel Department or via myvoicela.org.
The provocative photograph of Jacobs was taken during Garcetti’s June 2017, trip to Miami Beach for the mayors' conclave. It was a time of triumph and high spirits in the mayor’s orbit.
Three months earlier, Garcetti had won a landslide victory to earn a second term. He beat out more than 150 other members of the mayors' organization to take home the “City Livability Award” for Los Angeles. Media accounts described him as the leader of the Climate Mayors, a group that pledged to reduce greenhouse gases, as President Trump veered away from responsibility for climate change.
In the photo, taken on a balcony, Garcetti poses with five other conference attendees well known around Los Angeles city political circles.
At one end of the group is Heather Repenning, a former Garcetti aide, then a vice president on the Board of Public Works and recently a candidate for the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Beside her is Gerard Orozco, a one-time City Council aide and vice president at a major engineering firm. Next is Josh Perttula, the founder of a prominent public affairs firm in Los Angeles.
The former city workers making the picture public said they believe it is significant that Jacobs would make his inappropriate gesture in a public setting and in the company of such prominent individuals. It shows how routine this kind of behavior had become, the critics agreed.
Perttula said in an emailed statement that he did not know about Jacobs’ action at the time the picture was taken. He called his behavior “unacceptable and inappropriate.” Repenning did not respond to a request for comment. Orozco could not be reached.
In his email to The Times, Jacobs said: “What I can say is that I have never intentionally hurt anyone. That's not who I am.”
Asked if such behavior should disqualify him for working for the mayor or elsewhere in city government, Jacobs said it should not. He said his work had always been intended to help others.
“I may choose not to work in politics and government ever again because of how toxic the environment has become,” Jacobs added. “At the end of the day, the attacks against me aren't really about me. It's politics of the worst kind.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.