By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Sweet Alice Harris, Snoop Dogg and Clarence Avant have endorsed billionaire developer Rick Caruso for mayor of Los Angeles. Their endorsements raised eyebrows and angry denunciations from some Blacks, but their endorsements can’t totally be blown off.
Each has a constituency. Each has been deeply involved in the community for years. They can’t be dismissed as sell-out Donald Trump opportunist Blacks.
Avant, in particular, besides being a near legend in the entertainment field was a major fundraiser for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and served on the state education commission. He was appointed by a Democrat governor.
So, I must think their endorsement of Caruso was motivated by more than deal cutting, opportunism or political ignorance.
Even before their endorsement of Caruso, I noted that more than a few Blacks on various social media outlets seemed enthusiastic about Caruso becoming mayoral. They were explicit why.
They viewed L.A. city politics as horribly tainted and riddled with corruption, cronyism, good ole boy and girl backslapping with one hand washing the other. They see crime as a major threat. They see many L.A. streets littered with homeless encampments and piles of garbage.
In short, they see Los Angeles as a big, dirty, corrupt, mismanaged and widely impoverished city run by clueless Democratic self-serving politicians. Other than Caruso, they regard the other mayoral contenders as simply offering more of the same for the city.
That is admittedly a cynical, jaundiced, but nevertheless, very real view of the city. The endorsement of prominent Blacks of Caruso colored by this view has hurt Caruso’s principal rival far more than the others. That would be U.S. Rep. Karen Bass.
Caruso’s surge is fueled in part by the millions of dollars he can pull from his personal pocketbook to put into his campaign mostly in vicious, go for the jugular, attack ads on Bass. The result: Bass went from seemingly the early runaway winner of the race to finding herself in a real horse race to the finish line.
That’s heart breaking. Bass’s congressional track record, despite the Caruso hits on it, has been impeccable. She’s fought for jobs, minority business development resources, COVID aid, expanded health services and major police reform measures.
Bass and Caruso both know that L.A. politics is a tough nut.
It is the nation’s second-largest city. It has a budget and an economy that surpasses that of many nations. It is the glamor capitol for entertainment and sports. It’s the gateway to the big, economically muscular China, Japan, the Pacific Rim nations and Mexico.
However, beneath the glitter, glamor and prestige, there are problems — lots of them — that will confront Bass or Caruso.
Start with the problem that is the greatest eyesore, and has defied every plan, solution, program or action to eliminate: homelessness. There have been bond measures, ramped-up spending, hotel and residential vouchers and ordinances banning the homeless from this or that place, backed by police crackdowns.
Yet, the battered makeshift tents and encampments that dot L.A. are everywhere.
It will take a mix of strategic spending, land-use changes, housing subsidies and the expansion of support services to dent the problem.
The homeless crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It has a nefarious twin, the unchecked high rent or lease developments that make housing and apartment affordability in L.A. a bad joke and swells the homeless numbers. Caruso’s hands aren’t clean on this score being one who has padded his fortune from massive high-end developments.
Whichever one wins must craft and push the City Council to enact a solid land-use plan to rein in upscale development. That means taking checkbook politics out of the development process while ensuring the building and subsidizing of more affordable housing.
Next is getting a handle on the city’s rampant sprawl that has turned freeways and streets into stalled parking lots for hours on end. The answer is the continued expansion of light transit, busways, traffic signal coordination and synchronization, traffic flow monitors at major thoroughfares and carpooling incentives.
Then there’s the always thorny issue of police misconduct. The trick for Bass and Caruso is how to balance the ongoing fight for police reform while continuing to prod the department brass and the Police Commission to maintain vigilance on the issue.
The operative words on this remain firm direction, oversight and rigorous discipline. The gung-ho oil of Caruso’s political wheels by the Los Angeles Police Protective League cast huge doubt on how effective he can be on this issue.
There are legions of voters who are fed up with the malaise, the fog of government and the self-serving careerism that has often enveloped the mayor’s office in times past. That means clamping down on special interest deal-making cronyism, in and outside City Hall, trimming a bloated city bureaucracy and sneaky and upfront tax increases that smack of old-fashioned political pork-barreling.
Bass and Caruso both say they possess the ability, know-how and political smarts to tackle the city’s crushing problems. Caruso has managed to convince some Blacks he’s the one.
But Bass’ proven track record of accomplishment is a powerful counterweight to that. In any case, we have a real horse race to the finish line.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “The Midterms: Why They Are So Important and So Ignored” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.