CONFIRMATION PROCESS - Last Wednesday, January 12, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed the nomination of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to be the next U.S. ambassador to India.
The nomination needs to be confirmed by a majority of the U.S. Senate before it is final and there are still challenges in the way.
President Joe Biden announced Garcetti’s nomination on July 9 and there have been a number of reasons for the delay in confirming him, not the least of which have been allegations of his witnessing sexual predations by his deputy Chief of Staff, longtime confidante, fund-raiser and front man, Rick Jacobs.
And last week’s confirmation came despite a letter from a law firm representing Naomi Seligman, Garcetti’s Communications Director from 2015 to 2017, and others which lays out specifics starting from an inappropriate kiss on the lips while pinning her arms in front of her staff in 2016. At a later date, he forcibly kissed her husband in the same manner, also unwanted. A complaint to Ana Guerrero, Garcetti’s recently disgraced chief-of-staff was met with a “blank angry stare.”
The City’s Employee Handbook specifically states:
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature. The City’s policy promotes and helps maintain a working environment free of sexual harassment, intimidation, and coercion.
Even if such attentions is intended to be innocuous, once the person says it makes them feel uncomfortable, to continue is never acceptable, and there are numerous statements from people documenting Jacobs’ pervasive behavior which created a toxic workplace even for those who were not on the receiving end of Jacobs’ harassment.
Others complained to Guerrero with no success.
Guerrero has stated that no-one ever complained to her but consider that this is a woman who came under fire last year after grossly derogatory and supposedly private Facebook posts she made about Dolores Huerta and other state and city leaders were revealed, and she was removed from her position of power at City Hall.
Clearly Guerrero had bought into the toxic atmosphere that allowed Jacobs to flourish unchallenged and thought she was above censure.
Furthermore, people who ignore what is going on in front of their eyes will obviously accept any story, whether or not it is true. Once that line is crossed, they are forever in the power of those who witnessed inappropriate behavior and did nothing.
And there have been too many witnesses to stuff these complaints back in a box and pretend nothing happened.
The letter sent the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not that of a whiney-voiced woman on the outs. It is a ten-page formal complaint submitted by Liberty Law, a well-respected firm advocating for employees who have been discriminated against in the workplace, voicing concern about how:
Mayor Garcetti spent years ignoring and enabling Mr. Jacobs’s appalling unlawful behavior, despite a City Hall policy of “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct and is now engaged… in an attempt to cover up these failings.
“Enabling” and “cover up” are not words the Senate should ignore when selecting an ambassador to one of the world’s most important countries.
The Liberty Law letter quotes Biden during Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearings as saying:
For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real.
Just because Garcetti helped on Biden’s campaign, does not give the President or Senate the choice to ignore the truth of that comment now.
The letter goes on to describe the lawsuit filed by Matthew Garza, a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who served on Garcetti's security detail documenting pervasive inappropriate touch, explicit comments, groping and crude sexual gestures including in front of Mayor Garcetti alleging that:
…the Mayor was present on roughly half of the occasions when Mr. Jacobs behaved inappropriately toward him. Not only did the Mayor do nothing to stop it, according to Mr. Garza, he sometimes laughed at Mr. Jacobs’s crude comments.
Many of Garza’s allegations have subsequently been substantiated by witnesses both inside and outside City Hall including Naomi Seligman and Henry Casas, who served as Director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement until 2017.
In a New York Magazine article longtime national Democratic strategist Amanda Crumley says that Jacobs’s inappropriate behavior was well-known long before he went to work for Garcetti. She, too, experience inappropriate kissing and noted it was about power, not sex.
The tenor of what is on record is that Jacobs’s harassment, bullying, and retaliation (financial and reputation-wise) were simply the price of doing business with the City. There are reports of other staff members apologizing but doing nothing to stop Jacobs’ inappropriate behavior – it’s hard to take a stand when your job and own reputation may be on the line.
Given the mountain of evidence – including a plenitude of texts obtained by a subpoena for internal City Hall e-mails documenting that Jacob’s inappropriate behavior was widely known in and around City Hall, the statement Garcetti released in response, that he “has zero tolerance for sexual harassment,” rings extraordinarily false.
Before our mayor packs his bags, Biden and the Senate Democrats need to think long and hard about whether they can accept the sour taste of his seamier side given what is laid out in the Garza lawsuit, the Liberty Law complaint, and the circling rumors, and the potential ramifications of the ongoing cover-up.
By now, the early expectation was that Eric Garcetti would be nearing the one-year mark of serving in a top post in the Biden Cabinet. First there was no cabinet appointment as complaints out of LA escalated, then the hearing for the ambassadorship, announced over 6 months ago as a consolation prize, kept stalling.
At the low-key hearing last Tuesday, committee members appeared all too willing to support Biden’s nominee for ambassador to India – out of country out of mind? Or, at least, out of the media’s scrutiny?
However, where there is smoke there is almost certainly fire. Sometimes just embers, sometimes a huge conflagration.
This is not a National Enquirer tabloid story. Both Naomi Seligman and her lawyer are particularly credible and, at this point, the Mayor is not.
And the question remains: what does Rick Jacobs have on Eric Garcetti that allowed Jacobs to survive for years despite much more egregious behavior while Guerrero was quickly kicked to the curb?
Just knowing that he has got away with such misconduct over the years?
Or is there some other powerful hold, something more deleterious?
This should be addressed now, not after the other shoe falls at a time and place that could be disastrous for the already embattled Biden administration.
Remember that the real scandal of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair was that the President lied under oath.
The Senate needs to understand that while Eric Garcetti talks the good talk, he cannot be trusted.
And that he carries too much baggage to be put on that plane to India, an important ally, ostensibly to represent American interests.
(Liz Amsden is an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)