Exclusive: Mayor of Los Angeles Repeatedly Witnessed Top Adviser’s Alleged Sexual Misconduct
|Oct 20, 2020||15||8|
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This summer, a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department filed a lawsuit against the city. Officer Matthew Garza, who had served on the security detail that protects Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, alleged that one of Garcetti’s top aides, Rick Jacobs, routinely assaulted and harassed him—and that Garcetti had witnessed the assault and harassment and did nothing to stop it, nor hold Jacobs accountable.
News of the lawsuit, filed July 13, was a moment that many Garcetti staffers had been dreading: when allegations of sexual misconduct by Jacobs, and the acceptance of it by the mayor—long an open secret among staff—would be exposed, putting the administration in the crosshairs of a possible investigation.
The allegations laid out in Garza’s complaint sounded familiar to me because, over the course of a decade, from 2005 through 2015, Jacobs used to forcibly kiss me on the lips when I encountered him through my previous work in politics. After Garza’s lawsuit became public, I confronted Jacobs via text message and also alerted one of Garcetti’s top city hall aides about my past experiences with Jacobs.
More recently, I’ve discovered others who have had similar encounters with Jacobs.
Now, three months after Garza filed his lawsuit and I shared my experiences with Garcetti’s office, Jacobs remains at the top of the food chain in Garcetti’s world, and it is unclear whether a formal investigation (even one conducted by an outside law firm) into the allegations has been conducted.
Garcetti’s refusal to take formal, public action against Jacobs could expose the city of Los Angeles to significant civil liabilities. It has also created a work environment where administration staffers might be uncomfortable reporting sexual misconduct they’ve witnessed or experienced because they are dubious it will ever be followed up on, sources said.
But Jacobs holds tremendous sway in the Garcetti administration: His hands are in every pot, and his influence is broad and involves not only the mayor’s administration but his political operation and philanthropic activities. He helped get the mayor elected in 2013 and was immediately named deputy chief of staff. He helped launch the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, and he serves on its board as treasurer. And he co-founded (along with Garcetti) and runs Accelerator for America, a nonprofit that some saw as a vehicle to bring attention to Garcetti during a preliminary bid for president.
Despite leaving his city position in 2016 and no longer holding a formal role in any city or campaign entity controlled by Garcetti—and despite Garza’s lawsuit—Jacobs is still considered the mayor’s top adviser, sources say.
This story is based on interviews with more than a dozen sources over the course of three months. The sources include current and former Garcetti aides and allies; Democratic Party donors, staffers and officials; and LA government staffers. None of the sources was willing to speak on the record, either because they fear reprisal from Garcetti, members of his administration, his wife, Amy Wakeland, and Jacobs or because their current employers don’t allow them to speak to reporters without prior authorization.
In response to a list of questions emailed to Garcetti’s office, his administration didn’t respond to any of the specific allegations laid out in this story but simply wrote: “The Mayor has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and all staffers are empowered to report problems to the Personnel Department. In 2018 the Mayor created themyvoicela.org portal to enable current and former City employees, elected officials, commissioners, and individuals who do business with the City to report harassment and discrimination. Complaints can be filed anonymously, by phone, fax, mail, online, and in-person to the Personnel Department.”
Jacobs did not respond to an email requesting comment by the time this story was published.
Garza alleges in his lawsuit that from 2014 to 2019, while he was on the mayor’s security detail, Jacobs subjected him to a barrage of sexual harassment and assault. In his complaint, Garza says that Jacobs would make inappropriate comments about sex with younger men, male genitalia and how he would engage in rough sex. On multiple occasions, according to Garza, Jacobs would say in his presence: “You guys ready to fuck without KY?”
On other occasions, Garza alleges in his complaint, Jacobs would ask him to sit on his lap. Garza also says that Jacobs would forcefully hug him without consent and tell him, “You’re so strong and handsome” and “Your muscles are so tight.” He would often massage Garza’s shoulders without consent, Garza says.
Garcetti was often present for Jacobs’ harassment and assault, Garza says in his complaint, noting that “Mayor Garcetti was present on many, if not most of the occasions when Jacobs made sexually inappropriate comments, but the Mayor took no action to stop the comments from being made or even identify the comments as being inappropriate. On some occasions, the Mayor would laugh at Jacobs’ crude comments.”
Garza says that on more than a dozen occasions, Garcetti staffers apologized to him for Jacobs’ conduct.
But Garza isn’t the only one who says he has been treated this way. Two sources told me that Jacobs grabbed them without consent and forcibly kissed them at fundraisers in front of Garcetti. The mayor’s reaction? To watch and then laugh it off as he continued to greet people.
A former Garcetti aide told me that Jacobs once grabbed them and forcibly kissed them on the lips. And another source told me they were warned that Garcetti’s biggest liability was Jacobs and that the office could be sued for sexual harassment any day.
After Garza’s lawsuit was filed, Garcetti’s spokesman said, “The mayor has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and unequivocally did not witness the behavior that Officer Garza alleges.”
Jacobs also responded, denying the allegations in a statement, noting, “This lawsuit is a work of pure fiction, and is out of left field. Officer Garza and I worked together for many years without incident. I will vigorously defend myself, my character and my reputation.”
The city of Los Angeles is challenging Garza’s lawsuit, saying, in part, that the statute of limitations had passed on some of the allegations and that Garza had never filed a formal complaint of harassment while he was on Garcetti’s security detail.
Some senior aides in Garcetti’s administration also dismissed the veracity of Garza’s lawsuit, suggesting that the union that represents the city’s police officers, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, likely pushed Garza to file the suit as retribution for budget cuts Garcetti made to the LAPD in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests.
Typically, when an employee or aide is accused of any sort of misconduct, the employer will suspend the individual pending an investigation. Even when an employer or workplace isn’t earnest in its attempt to root out sexual misconduct, it at least suspends the accused and conducts some sort of investigation to give the appearance that it cares about a workplace free of misconduct and hostility.
When it comes to Jacobs, Garcetti has done no such thing. In fact, two sources told me that the day the lawsuit was filed, the Mayor’s Fund had a call with donors in which Jacobs was present, and neither he nor Garcetti made mention of the allegations. Some who were on the call were said to be stunned by the way in which Garcetti appeared to be sweeping everything under the rug.
In August, Garcetti said that Jacobs should be allowed to continue working for the Mayor’s Fund and other mayoral projects. “This is something that should take a process forward,” Garcetti told the Los Angeles Times, “but shouldn’t keep somebody who has been a committed public servant from being able to continue to serve our community and our world.”
Garcetti’s reaction to the allegations against Jacobs are in far contrast to the tone he took in April 2018 when, amid the #MeToo movement, he announced a new initiative to curb sexual harassment and assault. “My Voice LA” was billed as “a new portal that will enable current and former City employees, elected officials, commissioners, and individuals who do business with the City to report harassment and discrimination online, 24/7.”
As part of the announcement, Garcetti said: “Everyone in Los Angeles has the right to feel safe in their workplace. City Hall must set an example for L.A.’s entire workforce, by making a systemic shift in how we handle sexual harassment and discrimination reporting.”
But according to multiple sources, a culture of silence, not openness, had been growing for years around allegations against Jacobs. The workplace culture in Garcetti’s administration and political operation, which, according to sources, had already been hostile and toxic, had become even more so, with senior aides paranoid about whether staffers were secretly speaking with the media.
‘Nothing at All Is True. Nothing. It’s Fabricated.’
When I saw the news about Garza’s lawsuit and read the complaint, it all sounded familiar to me. That’s because, over the years, Jacobs had forcibly kissed me on the lips on a number of occasions.
I never want to put myself in the middle of a story, but in this case, I’ve been left with no choice. Several prominent news outlets have slow-walked this story. I also ethically can’t report out this news without revealing that I have been a victim of Jacobs’ misconduct as well.
In my previous career, I worked in Democratic politics and would often encounter Jacobs at fundraisers. I considered him a friend, and we had many acquaintances in common. Jacobs would often host dinners at his home, where he would gather prominent power players in Los Angeles politics, culture and entertainment. I attended at least a half dozen of these dinners over the years.
The incidents where Jacobs would forcibly kiss me always happened in front of others and at political and social functions. Jacobs would grab my face and kiss me on the lips—always twice—and he would turn to other people who witnessed it and say, “He has the softest lips.” Jacobs would also hug me in the same way Garza described in his complaint. A source described it to me as a “power hug,” but Jacobs’ hugs were more than hugs. I remember commenting to him once that he was hugging me so hard I felt like my teeth were going to break. (And besides, no one should be hugged without their consent.)
I never initiated or acted receptive to what Jacobs was doing, though I never told him to stop. Jacobs and I were never in a workplace environment, either. But forcibly kissing someone on the lips isn’t normal interaction between friends and unquestionably requires consent. (It is also considered assault under California’s penal code.) Over the years, I moved on and didn’t give those interactions much thought. After the #MeToo movement was reignited and I interviewed many women and some men about their experiences with sexual assault, harassment and rape, I thought about Jacobs and what he had done to me, and I shared my frustration with friends about how I had responded to his assaults.
A stereotype about gay men, which is often rooted in homophobia, is that we’re hypersexual and promiscuous—that we will accept anything when it comes to sexual interaction, whether it’s desired or not, and that any sort of unwelcome touching is just the way gay men interact with each other. It’s not only something that is placed on us as gay men, but it’s also something that some gay men, including myself, internalize.
Sources I spoke to told me that some of Jacobs’ alleged harassment and assault had been dismissed in a similar fashion by people in Garcetti’s circle—that his behavior was “just how gay men behaved.”
When I asked people who knew Jacobs about the allegations, I received messages like, “Well, you know how Rick is” and “None of us are surprised.” And I remembered how I had seen Jacobs at fundraisers over the years subjecting others to forcible kissing, grabbing and sexually explicit comments.
Jacobs’ emphatic denials infuriated me, and I thought that if I confronted him, perhaps he would, under fear of public exposure, own up to it and take responsibility.
On July 14, I texted him:
“Rick, I saw your statement denying the allegations by the lapd officer which is your right of course but you used to forcibly kiss me on the lips in front of other people all the time. I hated it. And you would often do it twice and then turn to people and remark how soft my lips were. It was not something I enjoyed at all. Did it make me feel unsafe? No. Do I know the circumstances around the lapd allegations? I don’t. But did they feel familiar? Yes. I forgave you for what you used to do but if you behaved this way towards this man just be honest about it and deal with it. Denials won’t help you if the allegations are true.”
Jacobs replied: “Nothing at all is true. Nothing. It’s fabricated.” He didn’t acknowledge my allegations at all.
I became angrier and more frustrated.
The next day I texted him again:
“Rick, every single person I’ve spoken to about this in the past 21 hours has said similar things to me, all along the lines of ‘well, you know how Rick is.’ or ‘That’s rick for you.’ You’ve got a problem, I don’t believe you’re a fundamentally bad person. But you’ve got a problem that you need to get help for.”
The text messages I exchanged with Jacobs after the lawsuit was filed against him.
I didn’t hear from Jacobs again.
I was very close to tweeting about what Jacobs had subjected me to over the years and revealing that I had confronted him. But before I did, I decided to give a heads up to a senior aide to Garcetti whom I have known for years. I texted the aide on July 15, two days after the lawsuit was filed:
“I just wanted to let you know that on many occasions Rick forcibly kissed me on the lips. I will likely be saying something about that soon.”
The text message I sent to a senior Garcetti aide informing them of my allegations against Jacobs.
The aide quickly called me. My conversation with them was off the record, so I can’t reveal what was discussed, but I can share that I gave the aide the full rundown of what Jacobs had done over the years and told them I had confronted Jacobs in a text the day before. At no point did the aide attempt to persuade me to stay quiet, but I decided to hold off on reporting my story, hoping the mayor would take action on Garza’s complaint.
Despite hearing my allegations three months ago, no one in the mayor’s office, including the aide I spoke to, has attempted to contact me to learn more about what Jacobs did.
Garcetti’s Ambition and His Future
From all appearances, Garcetti seems to have swept the allegations against Jacobs under the rug and is moving forward with his political ambitions. And his ambitions are as big as they come—and continue to include Jacobs.
Garcetti is so ambitious, sources say, he hasn’t just been measuring the drapes in the Oval Office, he has been planning his presidential library. For 18 months in 2017 and 2018, Jacobs worked with Garcetti to build a potential presidential campaign, traveling to all the key early states with the mayor. Multiple sources say Jacobs came to the table with a Rolodex of progressive donors who could contribute money to Garcetti’s campaign and political and philanthropic causes. Garcetti and Jacobs even founded another nonprofit called Accelerator for America, which, according to the website, “finds and develops solutions to economic insecurity and shares them with cities to create national change from the ground up.”
The organization, whose advisory board members include mayors from cities across the country, including, at one point, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was seen by some as a vehicle to bring Garcetti attention and influence within key early states. Even though Garcetti announced in January 2019 that he wasn’t going to run for president, Accelerator for America continues to operate, with Jacobs at the helm along with senior adviser Yusef Robb—a former communications director to Garcetti who was forced out after making disparaging comments about Garcetti’s wife, Wakeland.
In January 2020, before the Iowa Caucuses, Garcetti endorsed Joe Biden for president. He went on to serve as a co-chair of Biden’s vice presidential search committee, responsible for vetting potential candidates and advising Biden on a pick.
Garcetti has repeatedly been floated as a potential Cabinet member in a Biden administration. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about that possibility, Garcetti said, “It’s more likely than not” he will serve out his term as mayor until 2022. Los Angeles imposes a two-term limit on mayors. “But I always look at it very openly about, you know, what can I help the most people with?” he added.
An Adviser Who Almost Always Gets His Way
With the exception of Garcetti’s wife, Wakeland, Jacobs is the most influential adviser in the Los Angeles mayor’s life. While Garcetti’s longtime chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, may outrank him in title, sources say Jacobs outranks her with respect to the power he maintains in Garcetti’s administration and political universe.
Jacobs has known Garcetti and Wakeland for more than a decade through progressive social circles and activism in Los Angeles. When Jacobs was the California chairman of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004, Wakeland was an adviser. When Garcetti launched his mayoral campaign in 2011, Jacobs made himself invaluable by helping to raise money from progressive donors. But it wasn’t until Jacobs formed an independent expenditure committee— which could raise unlimited amounts of money as long as it didn’t coordinate with the candidate or his campaign—to help Garcetti combat his opponent, then-LA City Controller Wendy Greuel, that Jacobs solidified his power within Garcetti’s world. The committee, which was named “Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti for Mayor 2013,” raised more than $2 million and ran harsh attack ads against Greuel.
Rick Jacobs, former Vermont Governor and DNC Chairman Howard Dean, Amy Wakeland (the First Lady of Los Angeles), and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti
Jacobs was rewarded with a top job in Garcetti’s administration; his title was deputy chief of staff of operations. (He also held the unusual title of executive vice mayor, which raised eyebrows among city hall insiders.) Jacobs’ role gave him control over departments like scheduling, which, in government, is often the center of power. Sources say Jacobs zealously controlled access to Garcetti, which only increased his power and caused more internal strife within the mayor’s office.
According to sources I spoke with who are familiar with Garcetti’s schedule, Jacobs, even after leaving Garcetti’s administration in an official capacity in 2016, still maintains his influence over the mayor’s life. For some time, Jacobs even had full control over Garcetti’s Tuesday schedule to line up political and philanthropic meetings; those days were informally known as “Tuesdays with Rick.” It’s unclear whether Jacobs still has that control.
In Garcetti’s world, Jacobs has developed a reputation for almost always getting his way, despite best efforts by other officials and advisers to convince Garcetti and Wakeland that Jacobs’ counsel is misguided. Often, sources told me, Jacobs would get his way only after throwing what was described as a “temper tantrum.” Jacobs was not only known for his routine sexual misconduct, sources said, but he had a reputation as a bully whose rage often could not be contained and made the work environment within the mayor’s office hostile.
Jacobs’ relationship with Garcetti is so close, two sources described it as almost Machiavellian. But Jacobs’ relationship with Wakeland is even closer; multiple sources described their dynamic as codependent.
But as this scandal quietly threatens Garcetti’s administration and his political career, neither Garcetti nor Wakeland appear to want to give up their attachment to Jacobs—no matter what the cost.