Eric Garcetti is onto his next political chapter.
The former Los Angeles mayor was confirmed Wednesday as U.S. ambassador to India following months of speculation over whether Garcetti knew or should have known about a former top aide’s alleged sexual harassment of colleagues.
The U.S. Senate’s 52-42 approval gives the longtime politician the opportunity to relaunch his career overseas, although the harassment allegations that dogged his office — and the emotional fallout— are far from resolved.
A trial is scheduled for later this year in a case brought by a Los Angeles police officer who alleges he was subjected to crude sexual jokes and groped by Garcetti advisor Rick Jacobs. The advisor denies harassing anyone and Garcetti has said he didn’t witness the harassing behavior, as the officer alleges he did.
At the same time, the harassment allegations imploded once-tight relationships among a group that included Garcetti and his former top aides at City Hall.
In media interviews and depositions, some former Garcetti staff have blamed one another for not reporting Jacobs’ alleged misbehavior or for allegedly lying about what they saw. Others have accused one another of leaking information to the media.
Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School, said that she didn’t view the vote as a referendum on Garcetti and the harassment allegations. Some senators likely were eager to fill the vacant post, she said.
“I don’t know if this is a vindication so much as it is a victory,” Levinson said. “He becoming an ambassador to India just means that there was the political will to move this nomination forward.”
Garcetti, in a statement, said that he was “thrilled” by Wednesday’s outcome, saying the ambassador post “has been vacant for far too long.”
The overseas position could ultimately open up more career possibilities, including the office of California governor. Term limits will force out Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2026.
Garcetti’s close associates were quick to rattle off the names of former American diplomats who went on to win elected office or serve in other prominent roles in the government — including two former ambassadors to India: the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and the late John Kenneth Galbraith, the renowned liberal economist who served under multiple Democratic presidents.
“It’s an amazing group of people who have been in this job before,” said Bill Carrick, the political consultant who helped Garcetti win the mayor’s seat in 2013. “So this is quite an extraordinary place to be.”
Sara Sadhwani, politics professor at Pomona College, suggested that the position is a good fit for Garcetti at this moment.
”This is a great job and a great place to go to repair and rebuild his brand, his reputation and also his stature, regardless of the direction that he might want to go in the future,” Sadhwani said.
A loss in the Senate would have been a significant blow to Garcetti personally and to any future aspirations he may still hold to return to elective office, said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
Guerra said that Garcetti can “take a kind of sabbatical from electoral politics but he can still remain in the game for the longer run with this kind of high-profile appointment.”
Guerra said that he did not believe that the Senate’s protracted delay in approving Garcetti would have any long-term political consequences.
“No one will remember that it took so long; just that he was approved,” Guerra said.
Greg Smith, an attorney for Matt Garza, the LAPD officer suing the city over Jacobs’ alleged behavior, declined to comment Wednesday on Garcetti’s confirmation.
Jacobs, in his deposition, conceded he may have hugged Garza and made sexual jokes in front of the mayor’s security detail team. At least two men who worked in Garcetti’s office also gave deposition testimony in which they said they were subjected to unwanted touching from Jacobs.
Other Garcetti staffers have described being frozen out by colleagues after giving deposition testimony. Some told The Times that former co-workers blocked them on social media.
“People who I considered good friends, people with whom I had discussed Jacobs’ behavior, never spoke with me again the moment my deposition came out,” Suzi Emmerling, a former Garceti staffer, said in an interview this week.
Emmerling, in her deposition, also said that Garcetti’s wife, Amy Wakeland, threatened to refuse money from Emmerling’s then-employer, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, for city-backed philanthropy work because Wakeland thought Emmerling was talking to people about the allegations.
“That story is 100% made up. I was never part of any such conversation,” Wakeland told the Times on Wednesday.
Naomi Seligman, Garcetti’s former communications director, also alleged that she encountered a “Mafia”-like culture that rewarded silence in Garcetti’s office. She said she was told by other staff that the mayor protected Jacobs.
She called Wednesday’s confirmation vote “heartbreaking” for victims and whistleblowers.
Seligman, who works at the nonprofit legal group Whistleblower Aid, had led the charge to quash the nomination, meeting with Senate offices and alleging that Garcetti and others were covering up the truth of what happened.
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But others in the mayor’s office questioned her credibility, saying they did not witness a key incident in which she said Jacobs had forcibly kissed her on the mouth in full view of her staff.
A jury verdict in the Garza case — if the case isn’t settled beforehand — won’t put to rest all the allegations, said Levinson.
“There were so many more fingers that were pointed and accusations that were made,” Levinson said.
Sadhwani said many voters will mostly remember that Garcetti was mayor of L.A. and then ambassador and focus less on the sexual harassment furor that beset his office.
But she said the controversy would continue to crop up in news articles in any future run for office and she predicted that opponents would resurface a photograph in which Garcetti stood next to Jacobs and gave the thumbs up as his aide held his hand over another man’s crotch.
“It’s very damning for the future, because images are easily used in campaign material,” she said. (Garcetti said he did not see Jacobs’ gesture at the time.)
Sadhwani, who is Indian American, said the failure to fill the ambassador’s post has been a sore point in India, which last year celebrated 75 years of independence from Great Britain. She said it was important that someone bring “their full passion” to the job.
Asked if she thought Garcetti would be that person, Sadhwani said: “I think he has a passion for justice, a real concern for equity. Those are important qualities to bring as an ambassador to any country, right?”
Dakota Smith, James Rainey