Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti weighed in Wednesday morning on the newly announced nuclear deal struck with Iran as both the mayor of “Tehrangeles” — the nickname for the city’s Iranian community, the largest outside of Iran itself — and an American Jew, calling himself “cautiously optimistic.”
“It is something that has definitely set the city abuzz in Los Angeles. And I think, for a lot of Iranians, they look forward to an engagement, back again with Iran. We’re sister cities with Tehran — we’re not active sister cities, obviously, since 1979. But the opportunities for engagement are important,” he said. “But secondly, I think that it is, you know, the pathway is not between whether or not we have safety or not. I think that we see a pathway towards a bomb with no agreement. And I in general am cautiously optimistic and supportive of the president’s efforts, for sure. I think it took a lot of political courage to go. And even in Israel, I think, there’s a range of opinions about this. And as an American Jew, as mayor of a city with many Iranian-Americans, I think that it has much more positive to offer than negative, that we shouldn’t fear that, that staying and keeping engaged has much more benefit economically and certainly in terms of security.”
“But we have to keep a careful eye,” he added. “I know the president said this is all about verification, not trust, and I like that, because it has to have that snapback piece of it, that allows a majority… to immediately say that this being violated, and put those sanctions back — [it] makes me feel relatively secure that if the Iranians don’t live up to their agreement, that we will have the security to go at least back to the status quo. Which isn’t very good today, by the way, but at least the status quo. “
Garcetti was speaking Wednesday at a National Press Club “Newsmakers” news conference in Washington, D.C. about combating socioeconomic inequality and the need to embrace diversity as the country’s “great strength” — an idea that he says is neither radical nor new, but rather a core, even conservative American value. He also discussed his efforts to stem the effects of California’s historic drought — which include an order to cut his city’s water usage by 20 percent — and suggested looking to Israel, among other places, for water conservation models.
This month marks the halfway point through Garcetti’s first term as mayor of Los Angeles, whose denizens elected him to that seat in May 2013. He was then 42 years old — the city’s youngest mayor in more than a century.
Garcetti is quick to note that he is not actually the first Jewish mayor of Los Angeles — that honor goes to Bernard Cohn, who, as the city council president, helmed the city for a two-week interim in the 1880s between the death of the mayor and the next election — but does tout his status as the first elected Jewish mayor.
And when asked Wednesday morning whether raising the minimum wage — which he just did in L.A. last month, to $15 by 2020 — and pursuing immigration reform, of which he is a staunch proponent, are informed by Jewish values, Garcetti said, “Absolutely.”
“I’m proud of [being L.A.’s first elected Jewish mayor]… not just because of the cultural ties, but whether it’s the immigrant experience of both my Jewish and Mexican sides, or the values, I think, of growing up Jewish, and understanding that we have a responsibility — it’s not charity, but it is a responsibility of kind of our covenant to make sure that we take care of those who need us and to heal a broken world,” he said. “There’s no question these things come from that.”
Garcetti fortified that assertion with the story of his maternal grandfather, Harry Roth, who would become tailor to the president — only to give up that success to stand firm behind his moral beliefs.
“He was the son of immigrants from Russia and Poland who were fleeing the pogroms in the time of the early 20th century. His father came to Los Angeles and was a tailor. He took up his profession and decided to take his father’s name, Louis Roth, and turn it into a suit company. And Louis Roth clothes was one of the finest suits in America in the 1960s. And a guy named Jack Valenti, who worked in Hollywood, was tapped after the Kennedy assassination to work for President Johnson. And the first thing he did is he came here to D.C. and he looked at Johnson and the way he was dressed and said, ‘You look like a schlub. I know this guy out in Beverly Hills — he makes a really nice suit. Let’s get you a nice suit.’ And my grandfather, Harry Roth, the son of immigrants, became the tailor to the president of the United States of America.
“The story could end there, and it would be nice, but then, he was personally opposed to the Vietnam War. And he was very active in progressive politics, and as a businessman he had a union shop, he was ACLU Man of the Year, and it wore on him more and more. And he had a crossroads where he said, ‘I could speak out and say something about this but lose my most important and famous client, or remain silent and keep him.’
“And it wasn’t a tough choice for him. He took out full-page ads in The New York Times with my grandmother, telling President Johnson in 1968 not to run for reelection and to get out of Vietnam. And offering to pay him, in his retirement, a little money. And it made national news, it was in TIME magazine, etcetera. And I grew up with that story. My grandfather died when I was young, when I was about five years old, but. It showed that you stand up for what you believe in, even at the price of your own sacrifice, of your own wellbeing. And those moments I think came intensely from the tradition of social justice, Judaism and other things that he was raised with, but even more than that, just being an American, and realizing that this country had given him these opportunities, and he had an obligation to speak up and speak out on the things he believed in.”