While the 2020 race has set a record for the largest number of candidates, it has also featured a number of people who got varying degrees of close to running and then balked, such as Sherrod Brown and Mitch Landrieu. (It has also featured three candidates who got close to running, balked, then un-balked and got in late: Tom Steyer, Deval Patrick, and Michael Bloomberg). For the most part, the people who flirted publicly with running and then didn’t, or those who ran and then dropped out, have had their reputations suffer for it, with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, whose brief campaign transformed him into a nationally recognized leader on climate change, being the exception. For his part, Garcetti, having declined to try to build a national profile via a presidential campaign, has managed to build one anyway, via becoming a leader among mayors, working on addressing climate change, and advocating on behalf of Latino issues.
Today, Garcetti says that he’s happy he didn’t run, that he’s pleased with the way things have worked out. That he feels like he’s making progress with his city’s homelessness crisis, which would have almost certainly haunted his presidential campaign. That he’s spending time promoting cities as the economic and innovative engines of the nation, using a nonprofit he started, Accelerator for America, to bring together city, union, and business leaders. (Buttigieg was an early member—in fact, Garcetti launched the nonprofit in November 2017 at the same decommissioned Studebaker factory in South Bend, Indiana, where Buttigieg formally launched his campaign last April.) That he’s taken to sending new mayors an email of advice, which now runs five pages long. That maybe if he didn’t have an 8-year-old daughter, the timing would have been better suited for a presidential run. That maybe if he were in the last year of his mayoral term (as Buttigieg was before his term ended on New Year’s Day), he would have been more comfortable being an absentee executive.
Still, sometimes Garcetti can’t hide his wistfulness. It was evident one night in December, at the Dolby Theatre, in Hollywood, where the DNC held a big fundraising dinner on the stage that was built for the Oscars. Having been there the night before for the Rise of Skywalker premiere, Garcetti launched his welcome speech at the dinner with some corny Star Wars jokes. “I just want to tell you a couple of the spoilers,” he said. “Rey’s father is baby Yoda.” From there, he segued into a speech about how, while Hollywood tells the stories, real America plays out on the streets of Los Angeles. “We won’t win simply because of our policies and our prescriptions,” he said. “We will win because of our people. And when the American people feel like we hear them, listen to them, we will take back the White House.” It’s not America first, but Americans first. “Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rise up?”