By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES – As the Los Angeles mayoral enters its final stages, opponents U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and developer Rick Caruso continue to make their cases to voters for whose vision for the City of Angels should prevail.
Bass says she’s “fighting for the soul of our city.” Caruso insists that electing Bass as mayor of Los Angeles would lead to “more corruption in City Hall.”
Two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, both candidates are intensifying their talking points in relentless attempts to sway voters. Recent polls, however, indicate that voters are beginning to pay more attention to Caruso’s message.
A poll conducted in early October by the Los Angeles Daily News and J. Wallin Opinion Research showed a 3% lead for the billionaire real estate mogul, who trailed Bass by as many as 12 percentage points in August.
How did Caruso make up so much ground in a short period after Bass had obvious momentum following her victory in the June 6 primary?
“Rick Caruso really held his fire over the summer and is now having a major media and street-level push,” Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State Los Angeles, said in an interview Oct. 20 with KABC-TV. “Karen Bass is out in the community and pushing her issues, but Caruso has been able to overwhelm her message to some degree.”
Bass admitted that Caruso’s vast resources, including spending nearly $80 million in media advertising since February, has been a major factor in his ability to cut into Bass’ seemingly comfortable lead after the primary.
Caruso’s hard-hitting ads are delivering strong attacks against Bass and have prompted voters to reconsider their allegiance. Though Caruso has a slight edge entering the final days of campaigning, the Daily News-J. Wallin poll indicated that at least 23.6% of Los Angeles voters remain undecided.
Reaching the undecided has become Bass’ primary objective in her efforts to counter Caruso’s unlimited spending.
“It’s not surprising the polls have tightened when my opponent has spent $40 million since the primary,” Bass said of Caruso during a virtual roundtable discussion with Black media members Oct. 24. “This just means we need to keep working 24/7. You would think with all the commercials he has running that he would have wiped me off the earth by now. Money isn’t everything. My grassroots is strong.”
Bass’ grassroots coalitions and community support must stay firm. The poll revealed Caruso leads Bass in several key demographic areas including 43.7%-29.4% among Latinos, 35.5%-29.0% among Asians and 43.6%-29.4% among white voters.
Bass remains strong with Democrats — 43.8%-32.9% — and has a dominant advantage over Caruso in the Black community, 57%-19%.
Bass and Caruso are on the same page in pushing for the resignations of embattled L.A. City Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon, but both candidates differ sharply on the homeless crisis, crime, Los Angeles Police Department staffing and solving the city’s financial issues.
The city’s homeless problem has emerged as a major topic in both campaigns. Caruso is promising to house 30,000 homeless people in his first 300 days in City Hall. Part of Bass’ plan is providing mental health and other resources to help the homeless get —and stay — off the streets.
“My plan is to address the problem, not just hide people,” Bass said. “You have to address what led people to homelessness in the first place.”
The final days of Bass’ campaign will likely be defined by whether she can overcome Caruso’s attacks, which have helped him narrow the race and raise concern with Bass’ supporters.
Caruso has been diligent in attacking Bass for her alleged connection to the investigation involving USC and suspended City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. Caruso claims Bass is guilty of misconduct for accepting a $95,000 scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at USC, funding that reportedly came from Marilyn Flynn, the same former USC dean who pleaded guilty in an alleged financial scheme involving Ridley-Thomas.
“Do you want another corrupt leader?” Caruso said of Bass during an interview last week with Spectrum TV. “How can you lead through these incredibly complex times if you’re looking over your shoulder trying to defend yourself in a corruption case? I don’t think it’s a chance worth taking.”
Bass attempted to turn the tables on Caruso when she conducted a press conference on Oct. 20 with famed attorney Gloria Allred regarding Caruso’s role in the George Tyndall sexual abuse scandal at USC. Caruso was chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees in 2018 when the allegations surfaced about Tyndall, a former USC gynecologist.
Caruso drew criticism when he decided against releasing a report of an investigation that uncovered allegations from at least 700 women with complaints of sexual misconduct by Tyndall. Allred represented several of the women in the case. Caruso stood by his decision in the Spectrum TV interview.
“We did not release a written report on the request of the women involved,” Caruso said. “I’m proud of my tenure at USC.”
The Bass-Allred press conference did little to affect Caruso’s surge in the polls, putting more pressure on Bass to slow down Caruso’s momentum.
Bass has had a number of high-profile endorsements, including public support from President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, basketball legend and entrepreneur Magic Johnson and many entertainment celebrities.
“Bass has a very strong base among Democratic voters who are likely to vote,” Sonenshein said. “The real key for Caruso is can he break into that castle? That’s where her campaign resides.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.