Garcetti Distances Himself From Scandals in Confirmation Hearing

Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles mayor who was nominated to be U.S. ambassador to India, faced questions about recent sexual harassment allegations in his office.,

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ImageEric Garcetti has been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to India.
Eric Garcetti has been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to India.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Six months ago, President Biden nominated Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles to be U.S. ambassador to India. Since then, the confirmation process has been unusually slow.

That is partly because Republicans have held up scores of the president’s nominations. But it is also because of turmoil in the Garcetti administration and more generally at City Hall.

On Tuesday, the mayor finally testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. To cut to the chase, Garcetti denied knowing that a Los Angeles police officer on his security detail had complained of sexual harassment by a top aide.

Responding to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, the mayor said he “never witnessed” the alleged harassment, “nor was it brought to my attention.” If it had been, he added, he would have acted to stop it, saying that opposition to workplace abuses was “a core issue” for him.

The mild exchange capped months of speculation over whether Los Angeles’s current wave of City Hall scandal would cost Garcetti a long-sought place in the Biden administration. Garcetti, who joined Biden’s inner circle after ending his own presidential bid in 2020, had at one point appeared to be in contention for a cabinet post.

As the pandemic spiked in Southern California, Garcetti took himself out of the running for a gig with the White House. He accepted the ambassadorial nomination in July as infections waned and the city began to look ahead to next year’s mayoral election, which he can’t run in after serving two terms. Since then, however, anxiety around homelessness and crime has risen, and City Hall has become the hub of a wider-than-usual array of corruption charges.

One City Council member is in federal prison and two more are under indictment. A former deputy mayor is embroiled in a bribery case and facing federal charges. Garcetti’s chief of staff spent several months on leave after posting disparaging remarks on a private Facebook page about California political figures, including the 91-year-old labor icon Dolores Huerta. The former head of the city water and power department has agreed to plead guilty to bribery charges in a case involving the city attorney.

And then there’s the former member of Garcetti’s security detail, who has sued the city, accusing the former deputy chief of staff, Rick Jacobs, of sexual harassment. Garcetti himself has not been charged in any of the cases, but the officer, Matthew Garza, has claimed that the mayor knew that Jacobs, a well-known Los Angeles fund-raiser, was groping and harassing him and failed to stop it. The mayor has repeatedly denied the charge.

In July, a lawyer for several former City Hall employees wrote to the Senate committee, calling the alleged harassment “common knowledge.” By mid-fall, the mayor’s nomination still hadn’t gotten a hearing, even though the committee had already advanced other potentially problematic picks — Rahm Emanuel, for example, who was mayor of Chicago during a controversial police shooting and is up for ambassador to Japan.

In November, a committee spokesman confirmed that the senators were reviewing the sexual harassment allegations “in detail.” On Tuesday, as the Senate panel convened, the former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson tweeted that “we can’t keep covering up abusive behavior and allow enablers to get away with knowing about it.”

But the committee, which will vote at a later date, seemed satisfied. Shaheen’s was the only question about the scandal before the hearing was cut short to accommodate other votes in progress.

Garcetti appeared with the ambassadorial nominees for Pakistan and Germany — Donald Armin Blome, a career diplomat, and Amy Gutmann, the president of the University of Pennsylvania — and promised to prioritize trade, green energy and human rights in dealing with India, a critical strategic ally.

Shawn Hubler is a reporter for The New York Times who is based in Sacramento.

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Jack Kramer and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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