Opinion: If Biden/Harris wins, will Garcia stay or will he go?

The smart money in Long Beach politics these days is that if and when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win the election, Mayor Robert Garcia will be offered a seat on the next train to North Potomac to snap up a cabinet-level posting and saying sayonara to the city he’s been running for six years.

Right now, though, Garcia says he’ll stay.

Even so, the scenario would be tempting to any young politician at a local level.

If we can assume, at the very real risk of jinxing what’s still a salvageable democracy, that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will win the Tuesday election, it sets up a likely career bonanza for Garcia, who endorsed early and campaigned on behalf of both candidates.

In the friendship-and-favors-based sphere of politics, that opens an opulent buffet of state and federal posts that could become available to Garcia in a Democratic administration, including an appointment by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill Harris’ Senate seat as well as an array of cabinet-level positions—if not at a secretary level, but as a deputy secretary, undersecretary or assistant secretary level, perhaps serving fairly high up in the office of the secretary of education, Garcia is, after all, the ‘Education Mayor’ and holds a doctorate in the field. None of the above? Then maybe a post as just your generic “high-ranking government official.”

If these dreams are dancing through Garcia’s head just a few dozen hours before the election, he’s not showing any signs of bolting for the D.C. with a “so long, suckers!” sign taped to his car’s rear bumper.

In response to a question about whether he will leave before his term ends in 2022, “In the last six months the entire city team, and that includes me, have worked harder than any of us have ever worked in our lives.”

And it’s true there’s been plenty to work on in a city that, pretty, much like every other city in the COVID era, is overburdened with seemingly hopeless problems. The pandemic has left Long Beach with a brutally crippled budget, angry shop- and business-owners, a besieged police department, a host of racial equity issues, rampant homelessness and renters harassed by landlords (or, rather, the euphemistic term “housing providers”).

“My priority, first and foremost, is handling the COVID crisis and all the things that it’s caused,” he said.

Garcia’s star has risen rapidly in the political realm. Things changed perceptibly when COVID took his mother’s life in late July, and then his step-father’s life shortly afterward. It was a time of emotional whiplash for Garcia who in one moment was organizing the memorial for his beloved mother and the next appearing in a flashing moment as one of 17 keynote speakers in a “We Are the World” mash-up video during the virtual Democratic National Convention.

And at the same time and for weeks afterward, he was featured on several radio and TV broadcasts talking about his personal grief as well as stumping strongly for a Biden/Harris victory in November. Some of the appearances, he said, were set up by the Biden camp, others were just requests asked of him personally.

If he left Long Beach for Washington, it would be hard to be mad at him because if ever there was a moment to turbocharge his career as well as escape from the untidiness of Long Beach, a Biden-Harris administration is it.

But, in the face of everything from significant and perhaps chronic, long-lasting problems to a promising potential to head for higher office, Garcia insists he’s staying in Long Beach at least until the end of this second term in 2022, and he says he hasn’t ruled out a run for a third term that would keep him in office until 2026.

“When I ran for mayor in 2014 I said I planned to serve two terms, and I still plan on completing my second term. I’ve never ruled out a third, and I have absolutely not ruled it out now.”

“If Biden wins I’m not gonna guess what he’ll do. I’m sure whoever Biden and Harris selects it will be a great team, whoever he brings aboard.”

It was hard to leave him alone with that. Once again, if the Biden/Harris administration offers him a position, to be among those they bring aboard for a great team, would he turn it down?

There was a sliver of daylight in his answer:

“It’s an honor to be mayor of Long Beach. I love the job I have. But in terms of an appointment I would never, ever rule anything out. But the plan is to stay as mayor of Long Beach for two more years.”

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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