Los Angeles Mayor Race: Karen Bass and Rick Caruso Will Face Off In General Election

Los Angeles Mayor Race: Karen Bass and Rick Caruso Will Face Off In General Election thumbnail

Rep. Karen Bass (D–Los Angeles) along with billionaire local developer Rick Caruso will be heading to a November runoff election for the Los Angeles mayoralty. The top vote-getters from the open primary will face each other in November’s general election.

Their candidacies divided Hollywood loyalties during open primary — each promised solutions to a city struggling with homelessness, housing affordability, and crime.

Two time L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti was elected. His nomination to be U.S. Ambassador was denied. The Senate has held his nomination to become U.S. Ambassador to India for months over allegations that he knew of (and didn’t properly address) sexual misconduct by a top aide. Bass would be the city’s first Black and female mayor. A win by Caruso, an outsider to elected politics known for fashioning idealized urban environments (he cites Walt Disney as a key influence), would mark a rare renunciation of the city’s liberal Democratic political establishment.

L.A. City Council Member Kevin de Leon, a former president protempore of California, was third. He’d been a lightning rod for local progressive activists due to his attempts to relocate homeless individuals and eliminate tent encampments in his Downtown L.A. district — also a source of ongoing friction for productions which shoot in the area.

Caruso is the son of Dollar Rent a Car founder and is a mall magnate best known for The Grove or other upscale regional centers. He has served as a member of or president of many city commissions and has long considered running for mayor. Bass, who started her career as a community organizer, has been a long-time member of Democratic politics. She served six terms in Congress, representing large swathes of the Westside, and South L.A. Joe Biden selected her for vice president.

Caruso, in a raw display of modern-day plutocratic power, quickly built support with a largely self-financed run — spending $34 million to blanket the airwaves with his advertising prior to the election, more than 11 times the amount Bass has so far dispersed during her own campaign. “I’m fighting someone with unlimited funds,” she’s said.

Bass must energize the contingent of career civil-servants and moderate de Leon who voted for Bass. This may be the easiest part. Far trickier will be appealing to independents while not alienating her left flank, which has already bridled at her policy plans for ending homeless encampments and hiring more LAPD officers.

In a field of two candidates, Caruso will likely be in the spotlight in deep-blue Los Angeles for his history of conservative politics. The law-and-order candidate, a registered Republican until 2019 — he supported John Kasich’s attempt to challenge Donald Trump for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination — changed his party affiliation to Democrat less than a month before filing to run for mayor in February. While his ethos is decidedly Rockefeller Republican, not MAGA, he nevertheless retains a seat on the board of trustees at the Ronald Reagan Foundation alongside such right-wing luminaries as Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Ryan and Elaine Chao.

Both of the candidates have received bold-faced Hollywood support. Bass supporters include Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Norman Lear, Ariana Grande, Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel, Showtime’s David Nevins, ICM’s Chris Silbermann and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has funded attack ads against Caruso through an independent expenditure committee, drawing a rebuke from the mall magnate. (Katzenberg, in return, derided him as “too thin-skinned and temperamental to serve as our mayor.”) Other industry Bass backers run from Donald Glover, Magic Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross to Octavia Spencer, Jennifer Garner, Yvette Nicole Brown, Michael Eisner, director-producer Phil Lord and Tiffany Haddish, who previously told THR she admired Bass’ work with foster youth and the unhoused.

Caruso has received prominent endorsements from Elon Musk (“Executive competency is super underrated” in politics) and Kim Kardashian (“I believe in what he stands up for”) to AMC CEO Adam Aron (“The Grove features one its multiplexes”) and Gwyneth Paltrow (“There’s a Goop Sundries store at Caruso’s Montecito resort. It’s the Rosewood Miramar Beach). Other declared supporters include UTA’s Jay Sures and CAA’s Bryan Lourd. Irena Medavoy, Snap founder Evan Spiegel. Katy Perry, Maria Shriver, George Lopez, and Brian Grazer.

Anxiety about a recall of George Gascon, progressive L.A. County District attorney, is an X factor in the general election’s arc. Along with the L.A. County Sheriff slugfest (incumbent, Fox News favorite and Gascon arch-nemesis Alex Villanueva will attempt to fend off his challenger, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna), the D.A. Referendum may be a shadow of the mayoral race and reorient it away from its current top-line emphasis on homelessness and housing towards crime and punishment.

Gascon’s opposition are launching an aggressive direct mail drive to collect the required signatures before July 6 to get the recall on to the ballot. Caruso, like Villanueva, has endorsed the recall effort, which is led by prosecutors and law enforcement officials, including the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which has also financed a multi-million-dollar attack ad campaign against Bass. They deride Gascon, elected in 2020, as soft-on-crime, blaming his justice-reform policies for increased lawlessness, including an uptick in murders such as the December 2021 killing of philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, wife of music executive Clarence Avant and mother-in-law of Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who’ve both since backed Caruso. Gascon and his defenders deny the accusations, claiming that he is simply following the same practices he campaigned for. )

Sures, the co-president of UTA, told THR — as early results were trickling in — of Caruso’s showing that, “I think the campaign is thrilled that he started at 6% and it’s now at north of 40%. There is a way to go [in the general election]. Rick’s clear message is what I believe makes the difference. It’s crystal-clear. The message of the other candidate is not clear .”

Entrepreneur Jon Vein, who, along with Ellen Goldsmith-Vein (manager-producer), is a prominent supporter Bass, predicted success for his preferred candidate in November. He also called out Caruso’s negative campaign.

“I think that for Rick to deliver an onslaught of negativity, he’s done as much damage as he’ll ever be able to do and she’s still standing so I think that when we head into the general and there’s going to be real money and real scrutiny on his record, I think there’ll be as close to clear sailing as you’ll get,” Vein tells THR. “My impression is that his chance to win was locked into getting 50 percent now. They were so negative and unnecessarily aggressive that they ended up being very negative. I’m certain that was the advice he received from those around him. It’ll be much easier for her now to raise funds. People have been on the sidelines.”

Sures has a different view on Caruso’s campaign. He says that people will gravitate to Rick because of his clear message. Because of his clear message .”

, I believe people will be attracted towards Rick.

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