WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Joe Biden on Friday nominated Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, an ambitious star in his Democratic Party, to be ambassador to India, with which the United States has an increasingly close relationship.
The Jewish Garcetti, who has led country’s second-largest city since 2013 with a focus on improving transportation and sustainability, declined to run for president last year but has been widely seen as seeking to burnish his credentials with a new job.
A Rhodes scholar who spent 12 years as an intelligence officer in the US Navy Reserves and plays jazz piano on the side, Garcetti said in a statement that he had “committed my life to service.”
“And should I be confirmed, I’ll bring this same energy, commitment and love for this city to my new role and will forge partnerships and connections that will help Los Angeles,” Garcetti said.
If confirmed by the Democratic-run Senate, which appears likely, the 50-year-old Garcetti would take up an ambassadorship with a storied history.
Previous tenants of Roosevelt House, as the official residence in New Delhi is known, include the celebrated economist John Kenneth Galbraith and the policy intellectual Daniel Moynihan, who went on to become a senator.
Garcetti would head to New Delhi at a time that the United States is seeking to flesh out a burgeoning relationship with India in the face of an increasingly assertive China, the only other nation of a billion-plus people.
Biden has stepped up the “Quad” partnership of the United States, India, Japan and Australia — four democracies that largely share common cause on China’s rising military and economic might.
But Garcetti, the first Jewish mayor of Los Angeles, would also head to India amid growing concern in the United States, especially among Democrats, over the treatment of minorities under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Biden as a candidate voiced disappointment over a citizenship law pushed by Modi that critics say would disenfranchise Muslims; and the State Department last year voiced rare, if muted, criticism of India over a sweeping crackdown in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
India has been facing major challenges from COVID-19 and air pollution — two issues that Garcetti has tackled in Los Angeles.
As mayor, Garcetti signed a hike on the minimum wage, pushed forward initiatives on climate change and mass transit and led the bid that will bring the Olympics to Los Angeles for a third time in 2028.
But Garcetti would escape Los Angeles at a time that he is facing rising criticism including over homelessness, long a scourge in the City of Angels.
In recent months, his former deputy mayor was charged in a corruption scandal in which city officials allegedly accepted kickbacks over zoning decisions and another top aide was accused of sexual misconduct.
Some Black Lives Matter protesters had urged Biden not to pick Garcetti for any role over his handling of the police department.
Garcetti in December said he turned down an unspecified job in the Biden administration so he could focus on defeating Covid-19 in Los Angeles.
Garcetti has long shown an interest in foreign policy, pointing to the city’s deep tradition of immigration, vibrant tourism industry and its port, which is the busiest in the Americas.
In a 2018 speech, Garcetti warned of a “new authoritarianism” rising in the world and accused former president Donald Trump’s administration of being too unpredictable and unreliable to allies.
“One day we’re fascinated and friendly with you, the next day we’re not. We seem obsessed with strongmen more than our long-time relationships,” he said.
If Garcetti leaves, the City Council can either appoint an interim mayor or call a special election. Garcetti was already prohibited by term limits from seeking a third mandate in elections next year.