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Mayor Garcetti urges students to engage in politics at Cal State LA’s PBI conference

November 16, 2018

By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called on students to stay active in politics and government at the annual conference of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA, a week after the 2018 midterm elections saw one of the largest turnouts among young voters in decades.

“I am going to be in this fight for a long time and I need you to be as well,” Garcetti said to students packed into the Golden Eagle Ballroom alongside university, local and international leaders. “I look at all of you and I don’t see the leaders of tomorrow … You’re the leaders of today.”

Garcetti’s remarks underscored the theme of PBI’s Nov. 15 conference, “Election 2018: It’s On,” which examined the implications of the recent election and looked ahead to how people, especially students, can be involved in the political process.

Associated Students, Inc. President Nia Johnson, a political science major at Cal State LA, celebrated the increased youth and student participation in the elections, recounting ASI’s voter registration and education efforts targeting the university’s students.

“As a young woman of color, this midterm year meant a lot to me. We showed just how much of a difference our voices can make,” Johnson said. “To see the array of people who stepped up to run for office and even to win, reminded me that our votes really can count.”

Even as Thursday’s conference was underway, ballots were still being counted in close races in California and across the nation from a midterm considered the most consequential in recent history. The election resulted in a divided Congress, with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives and Republicans retaining a narrow majority in the Senate.

“At this moment in time, people are starting to realize that it is not just an election, it’s a transformational point. And the question is partly what happened, but the next step is, now what? Because it sets off a whole new alignment of forces that are going to change all kinds of things,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, PBI’s executive director. “People are casting around to learn what happened, but also what’s the bigger picture? What are the forces in society? Where do they want to play a role and how do they get activated to do it?”

Cal State LA President William A. Covino introduced Garcetti and touted Civic University, a collaboration between PBI at Cal State LA and Garcetti’s office. The initiative has helped hundreds of people every year better understand the workings of local government so they can advocate more effectively for their neighborhoods. Covino reflected on the university’s collaboration with the mayor’s office during the five years he has served as president.

“We have continued terrific partnerships and a terrific friendship with projects and achievements that are just stunning,” Covino said.

Garcetti took part in a brief question-and-answer session with Sonenshein before leaving to attend the funeral of Ron Helus, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department sergeant who died helping those inside the Borderline Bar & Grill during the Nov. 7 mass shooting in Thousand Oaks.Raphael J. Sonenshein, President Covino and Gil Garcetti

Garcetti, who is widely speculated to be eyeing a 2020 presidential run, avoided directly answering the question on many minds: whether he’ll jump into the Democratic primary fray. Instead, he acknowledged he was open to the possibility of a bid and hoped that mayors do mount candidacies because of their unique breadth of experiences as chief executives.

“Whether I run or not, I will be working very hard to change the leadership at the national level in 2020,” Garcetti said.

Panels during the daylong event explored topics including the results of the Nov. 6 election, polling and the media’s role in the current political environment. Among those attending the conference were Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, diplomats, and representatives from the offices of local and state elected officials.

Conference speakers included Atlantic Media’s Ronald Brownstein, who delivered the distinguished lecture, Carla Marinucci of Politico, Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions and UCLA, Shakari Byerly of public opinion research firm EVITARUS, Warren Olney of KCRW and Pilar Marrero of “The Pundettes” podcast, among others.  

“The Pat Brown Institute’s conference plays a vital role in continuing the conversation around this important moment in our country’s political history. We are proud of our students for staying informed and active in deciding their government,” said Cal State LA Executive Vice President Jose A. Gomez, who also serves as chair of the Pat Brown Institute Board of Advisers.

At the close of his session with Sonenshein, Garcetti teased the audience, promising a “big announcement.”

“Next time you invite me back, I’m coming,” Garcetti said to laughter in the audience.

Mayor Garcetti with students

Photos: Above, Mayor Eric Garcetti takes part in a question-and-answer session with PBI executive director Raphael J. Sonenshein. Middle, PBI executive director Raphael J. Sonenshein, President William A. Covino, and former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti. Bottom, Mayor Eric Garcetti with Cal State LA students. (Credit: Ty Washington/Cal State LA)

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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 28,000 students and has more than 245,000 distinguished alumni.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit