Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a close ally of President Joe Biden, is under consideration for appointment as the next US ambassador to India, according to several media reports.
Biden’s Spokesperson Jen Psaki neither confirmed nor denied the reports on Wednesday, saying only at her daily briefing that she had no personnel announcements. She also said later that diplomatic announcements would be made “soon”.
Always considered a key diplomatic position, the Indian mission has grown in importance with Washington’s focus on the Indo-Pacific and in keeping with it Biden’s administration appointed former acting Secretary of State Daniel Smith as its acting head last week.
Ambassador Kenneth Juster, a political appointee of former President Donald Trump, resigned in January when Biden took over.
US presidents have usually given a large number of ambassadorships to political allies and donors to the election campaigns and the India post has often been among them.
It is expected that Biden would select a high-profile appointee.
Garcetti was a co-chair of Biden’s election campaign and was on the panel that vetted candidates to be his Vice President.
He is a Latino of Mexican descent and of the Jewish faith.
He was elected mayor in 2013 and is legally barred from running again when his second term ends next year.
The internet news site Axios first reported on Tuesday that Biden was considering Garcetti for the India ambassadorship.
But his spokesperson Alex Comisar said, “Axios story is speculative,” and added, “We’re 100 per cent focused on ending the Covid pandemic and passing a justice budget for the city.”
NBC TV reported on Wednesday that according to two unnamed knowledgeable sources Garcetti was in talks with the Biden administration about the position.
Although Garcetti’s political experience has been confined to Los Angeles he has been mayor since 2013 and city council president before that he has an academic background in international relations.
He has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and was a Rhodes Scholar and has taught international affairs at the University of Southern California and diplomacy at Occidental College. As an academic, his research centred on nationalism in Southeast Asia and Northern Africa.
Mayors of US cities wield considerable influence and power controlling police, the taxation and budget, and schools.
As the mayor of the second-largest US city with a population of nearly four million more than the population 21 US states have and a budget of $11.2 billion, Garcetti has relatively significant administrative experience and political clout.
He was offered a position by Biden in his administration, but he said he turned it down because “my city needs me now”.
Fifteen of the 23 ambassadors in New Delhi have been political appointees and included distinguished personalities like former governors Richard Frank Celeste and Chester Bowles (who served twice), former members of Congress including Kenneth Keating, Sherman Cooper and William Saxbe, and public intellectuals like John Kenneth Galbraith and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had also been a senator.
Meanwhile, several media reports have said that Nicholas Burns, who has advised Biden on international affairs, is under consideration for ambassador to China.
He had been the main US negotiator with India for the civil nuclear agreement.
Starting as a career diplomat, he has held senior positions in Democratic and Republican administrations
He was the under-secretary of state for political affairs in the administration of former President George W. Bush and a special assistant to former President Bill Clinton.
He is now a professor at Harvard University.
(Arul Louis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed @arulouis)