Teachers strike a headache for Garcetti as he mulls presidential bid

Teachers strike a headache for Garcetti as he mulls presidential bid
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As Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) considers whether to jump in the fast-growing race for the Democratic presidential nominee, some of his advisers are concerned that a looming teachers strike in his own backyard could keep him on the sidelines for weeks.
 
Garcetti is set to decide this month whether he will launch a bid for president. 
 
But that decision is likely to be shelved if teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the country, with almost half a million students, go on strike on Monday.
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In internal debates about how to build a campaign, Garcetti's aides have acknowledged he cannot possibly launch a bid while teachers in his own city are on the picket line, according to sources involved in the conversations.
 
Talks between the school district and United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents 32,000 teachers and staff, broke down Friday when union negotiators rejected the district's latest offer.
 
The district had offered to cap classroom sizes and to raise teacher salaries by 6 percent in the next year. Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl told reporters the raise would only apply to one year. The union has asked for a permanent 6.5 percent salary hike, among other demands.
 
The timing of what would be the first teacher's strike in Los Angeles in 30 years could not be more of a headache for Garcetti, who has been hinting at a presidential run for more than a year.
 
Making matters even more frustrating to the second-term mayor is the fact that he has little power to exercise. The city has no control over the Los Angeles Unified School District, an independent body overseen by an elected school board that extends beyond the Los Angeles city limits to 25 other cities.
 
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Garcetti has been working behind the scenes to strike a last-minute deal, aides said, to ensure that schools open on Monday.
 
"Mayor Garcetti has been speaking with both sides and has urged them to find common ground that avoids a strike and its impact on our kids. He has offered himself, his staff and City Hall to help," said Yusef Robb, Garcetti's spokesman. 
 
California political observers say the strike underscores the trouble any mayor would face when they run for president: Every city has its problems, and Los Angeles is no exception.
 
"It’s a tough choice to focus on appealing to a national audience and risk alienating key constituencies in Los Angeles," said Anthony Reyes, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles. "How do you speak about a greater vision for the nation when there are still problems back in the city that haven’t been taken care of? The strike just makes this contrast way too stark for his own good."
 
John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College and a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said a short-term strike would not imperil Garcetti's campaign by itself, though it could prove a nuisance.
 
"It's a midsized problem. At very least, it dominates his time and attention, meaning less for a presidential campaign," Pitney said. "And labor trouble is seldom good in Democratic primaries."
 
But Pitney said it shines a light on the problems Los Angeles faces, problems that would become cudgels against Garcetti if he begins to catch fire. A teachers strike coupled with rising homelessness and a statewide housing crisis that has hit Los Angeles could expose Garcetti to charges that the most vulnerable citizens in his city have been left behind.
 
"Homelessness will be a particular political burden for him. From the left, other candidates could accuse him of failing our most vulnerable people," Pitney said. "And if he were the nominee, the attack ads from the right would practically write themselves. One can picture grainy footage of homeless encampments and scary-looking people wandering the streets."
 
Garcetti has laid the groundwork for a potential campaign. He spent the midterms visiting early primary states to campaign for Democratic candidates, and his Democratic Midterm Victory Fund raised more than $2 million, some of which went to state Democratic Party organizations.
 
Supporters have set up a PAC aimed at wooing him into the race. And Garcetti has been traveling since Election Day to promote Accelerator for America, a nonprofit group meant to promote opportunity zones in cities across the country. 
 
Garcetti's team promoted a survey conducted for the nonprofit by Fred Yang, the prominent Democratic pollster who worked for his mayoral campaigns.
 
Robb, Garcetti's spokesman, declined to say when Garcetti would make a decision about whether to seek the presidency.