Former L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti returns from India for Milken conference

Eric Garcetti, US ambassador to India, following an interview in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, March 28, 2024. Garcetti said he's working to convene events, along with India's government, to bring investors to the country in the second half of the year, likely in Mumbai. Photographer: Ruhani Kaur/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. Ambassador Eric Garcetti is shown after an interview in New Delhi on March 28, 2024. Garcetti said he's working along with India's government to convene events, probably in Mumbai, in the second half of the year aimed at bringing investors to the country. ( Ruhani Kaur / Bloomberg)

A little more than a year after leaving Southern California for New Delhi, former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti returned home for a packed schedule of panels at the Milken Institute Global Conference.

This is Garcetti's second trip back to Los Angeles since he was confirmed to serve as U.S. ambassador to India in March 2023, 20 months after he was first nominated to the post. The former mayor's appointment was dogged by questions about whether he knew, or should have known, about a former top aide’s alleged sexual harassment of colleagues.

The ambassadorship has given the close Biden ally the opportunity to relaunch his political career thousands of miles from the lingering scandal at L.A. City Hall.

Garcetti was a frequent participant at the luminary-packed annual Beverly Hilton conference while he was mayor, but his focus this year was on India, rather than the City of Angels. He participated in an opening fireside chat Sunday and three panels Tuesday, two of which were livestreamed.

"It's such an incredible convening," Garcetti said of the Milken conference, praising its importance to the city and the heft of its attendees. "I always found it to be such an amazing place to connect L.A. with the world and vice versa. And now I'm a part of that world, connecting with L.A. this time."

Read more: Free from L.A., Eric Garcetti is reinventing himself in India

During a Tuesday morning panel with several business leaders focused on investment in India, Garcetti described the country as "a place where the dynamism of the economy, the youth and the optimism of the population, and the raw opportunities and energy is almost unmatched in the world."

He described himself as a "bridge between the two largest democracies in the world" and said part of his mission as ambassador was to help Americans get to know India as well as Indians know America, "because India and Indians know America and Americans so much better because of decades of immigration, contributions [and] engagement."

The former mayor, who was a powerful booster for Los Angeles while in City Hall, at one point lapsed into a familiar riff about where to go to see the future, except this time, India — and not Los Angeles — was the destination in question.

His second panel on Tuesday, titled "The U.S.-India Relationship: Possibilities and Perspectives from Investors and Indian Business Leaders," was closed to the public. He appeared on a third panel Tuesday afternoon about the future of statecraft and diplomacy alongside ambassadors to the U.S. from Panama and Australia and a State Department official.

During the panel, Garcetti spoke about how he had studied international relations and always thought he would go into human rights, international development or diplomacy work, surprising people when he first ran for Los Angeles City Council in 2001.

While in Los Angeles Garcetti visited his parents, former L.A. Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and Sukey Garcetti, his sister and brother-in-law and his former foster kids, he said. His wife, Amy Wakeland, and young daughter remained in India because of her school schedule, he said.

The stop in the Los Angeles was part of a five-city trip that included a military event in Honolulu and a talk Monday at Stanford's Hoover Institution. Garcetti also met with Indian American tech leaders in Silicon Valley and Indian students at Stanford. He will also attend a series of White House and State Department meetings in Washington, where he will give a Council on Foreign Relations keynote address, followed by a stop in New York before departing for India on Saturday.

Garcetti said that he and Mayor Karen Bass "talk all the time." He spoke to The Times while driving his mother's Subaru down Wilshire Boulevard toward Getty House, the mayoral residence, to visit with his successor.

"It's funny, I'm driving myself to the house I used to live to meet the mayor," Garcetti said with a hearty laugh. He marveled at the progress on the D Line subway extension along Wilshire, on which he had broken ground as mayor.

His new job is "extraordinary," he said, though he does miss taco trucks and bagels, both of which are hard to come by in India.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.