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Where’s Eric Garcetti? ~ L.A. Mayor Ignored by Teachers Union After Offering to Mediate

[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]ayor Eric Garcetti last week said he would mediate a last-minute bargaining session between a L.A. school district and teachers union seemingly incapable of bridging their differences to avoid a strike that in the mayor’s own words has become “all but inevitable.”

But come Monday morning, Garcetti was nowhere to be seen as the meeting at LAUSD headquarters on Beaudry Avenue in downtown Los Angeles went on without him. Those talks failed to bring the two sides any closer, with a Thursday strike date looming large.

They agreed to meet again on Wednesday.

The mayor offered to play the role of mediator between the teachers union and the school district twice, and twice his offer was accepted by L.A. Schools Superintendent Austin Beutner, but rejected by the union.

Images via Eric Garcetti's 2009 City Council campaign.

Garcetti is not capable of contributing constructively to talks, say multiple sources familiar with contract negotiations between the district and the union. “It’s better if the protagonists are teachers and parents. Elected officials really can’t intervene meaningfully until a critical mass emerges,”  one source said.

Another concluded Garcetti isn’t an honest broker and would not be a trustworthy mediator as far as teachers are concerned. “The union is better off without help from the mayor.”

RELATED: Teachers Strike Update: Both Sides Due in Court on Tuesday After Last-Minute Negotiations Fall Apart

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he current fight over the schools is engendered in historic bad blood between the mayor’s office and UTLA. Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa campaigned to shift authority over L.A. schools to the mayor’s office in 2005 and 2006, but was defeated in court.

For Villaraigosa, if the school board wasn't going to support him, he'd change the school board. He aggressively raised money and campaigned to elect members aligned with his education policies. Monica Garcia, Tamar Galatzan, Yolie Flores Aguilar, and Richard Vladovic won seats on the school board in 2006 and 2007, with Villaraigosa's help.

That fight pitted supporters of the union against charter proponents, many of whom saw UTLA as bloated, uncreative, and impeding badly needed change.

Although Garcetti has avoided the mistakes of his predecessor, he’s still flopped at the messaging. Last week, he called the strike “all but inevitable,” even though both sides were officially still in negotiations.

The union flatly contradicted Garcetti, and ignored his proposal to mediate without even offering an official statement. The union simply didn’t pay attention to him.

The offer of mediation is fraught with political risk, anyways. In Los Angeles, unlike its big city counterparts Chicago and New York, the mayor has no control over the schools. If he intervenes in favor teachers and a fiscal deficit results in 2020, as the district has warned, then Garcetti could be blamed. But if he intervenes in favor of the district, he could lose a significant political ally in the teachers union, which endorsed him when he ran as a candidate in 2013.

Garcetti could theoretically sit this one out. But instead, he has offered to referee. "Mayor Garcetti has always offered City Hall as a neutral space, and has offered to help facilitate negotiations,” said Andrea Garcia, a spokesperson at the mayor’s office.

“He has been actively talking to both sides to try to help them reach a resolution. But should a strike occur, the city will be prepared to expand hours and staff at city facilities so that parents have a safe, reliable, and familiar place to take their children."

While no details have yet to be released, the city is expected to keep libraries, parks, and recreation centers open longer during the strike. In the meantime, the mayor has said he continues to talk with all sides about ways to prevent a strike.

RELATED: Op-Ed: L.A. Needs Civil Rights, Not Civility ~ Why We Shut Down Mayor Garcetti

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