By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — The top three candidates battling to become the next mayor of Los Angeles — billionaire real estate mogul Rick Caruso, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and 14th District Councilman Kevin de León — have structured their campaigns on similar issues.
All three are telling voters they have the right solutions for rising crime, homelessness and a frustrating economy that has Los Angeles drivers paying more than $6 a gallon for gas.
So, how will voters separate Caruso, Bass and de León before they head to polling places on June 7 for the mayoral primary? The decision might come down to intangibles.
Caruso’s wealth makes him a favorite among the city’s elite, but his reported $40 million in campaign spending has not helped him become a runaway choice for mayor.
Bass, who grew up in South Los Angeles, is virtually even in the polls with Caruso because of her strong community and grassroots support.
De León is staying in the race despite being a distant third in the polls behind Caruso and Bass. De León earned the endorsement of the United Farm Workers union, something no Los Angeles mayoral candidate has done since Tom Bradley.
“I’ve just been working as hard as I can to stay connected to the voters,” de León said to The Wave in a telephone interview. “The vast majority of people don’t look at the polls. They look at your body of work and your leadership skills.”
Though de León continues to run a spirited campaign, he can’t escape the reality that Caruso and Bass are the frontrunners to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti. Caruso and Bass have put significant distance between themselves and the remaining candidates with their visibility and name recognition.
Caruso’s well-known real estate corporation has made him a public figure in Los Angeles, as well as his former role as president of the city’s civilian Police Commission from 2001 to 2005. Bass is in her 18th year of public service after serving in the state Legislature and representing the 37th District in Congress.
For many voters, the choice is based on whether they want a highly successful businessman in the mayor’s office or a dedicated public official with extensive political experience.
Bass has already given non-committed voters something to think about by staying close to Caruso in the polls despite his overwhelming advantage in exposure from television and radio ads.
“All of the support I’ve gotten from around the city has been shocking and gratifying,” Bass told The Wave in a phone interview. “The amount of goodwill in the city is obvious. So many people are concerned where our city is heading. It’s about solving our problems instead of moving them around.”
Caruso and Bass are expected to face each other in a November runoff if neither candidate gets more than 50% of the vote on June 7. Considering how close they are in the polls, campaign staff for both candidates are bracing for extended work.
“Karen just needs to hold steady and be herself,” said 8th District City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “She’s spent her life serving the people. Caruso has spent his life making money. That’s why Karen is so close to winning.”
Caruso and Bass have landed major endorsements to boost their campaigns.
Entertainer Snoop Dogg posted a video on Caruso’s Twitter page in May expressing his support for Caruso. Longtime community activist Alice Harris, founder of Parents of Watts, also is backing Caruso.
Bass’ endorsements include Showtime CEO David Nevins; Ari Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor, a prominent entertainment and media agency; Chris Silbermann, chairman of ICM Stellar Sports and casting director Vanessa Spencer.
Besides Caruso, Bass and de León other candidates for mayor include real estate agent and former MTA board member Mel Wilson, self-described business owner John “Jsamuel” Jackson, community activist Gina Viola, social justice advocate Alex Smith, business executive Craig Greiwe and attorney and citizen advocate Andrew Kim,
City Attorney Mike Feuer, City Councilman Joe Buscaino and entrepreneur Ramit Varma are also included on the ballot but all three have pulled out of the race, Feuer throwing his support behind Bass and Buscaino and Varma supporting Caruso.
A key issue fueling the Bass-Caruso battle is Caruso’s promise to hire 1,500 officers for the Los Angeles Police Department if he wins the election. LAPD has approximately 9,352 officers working in various capacities. Adding more police officers is part of Caruso’s plan to reduce crime in the city.
The Wave made several attempts to contact Caruso for this story, but he was unavailable for comment.
Bass has indicated that improved public safety is a priority if she’s elected, but she said adding 1,500 police officers would “bankrupt the city.”
“If we did that, we would have to make deep cuts somewhere else in the budget,” Bass said. “Every time you do that, you pull the rug out from somebody.”
Bass’ public safety plan includes hiring at least 250 “civilian workers” to take on administrative functions for LAPD officers, which she believes would free up officers to handle more crime-fighting duties.
Bass also is advocating the development of “social response teams,” where specially trained personnel would assist or replace police officers in handling on-site calls requiring social workers, mental health experts and homeless outreach staff.
Similar proposals have been presented in major cities around the country in efforts to ease the burden on police officers dealing with calls that might not involve a criminal offense.
De León and Bass have similar views on public safety and potential police reform measures, although neither candidate earned the endorsement of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the LAPD. That endorsement went to Caruso.
“People want a police presence, but they want to be treated with dignity and respect,” de León said. “The next mayor will ensure that, and I feel I’m the only candidate with the leadership and experience to make that happen.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.