By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
In the space of less than 24 hours last week mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso tossed political bombs at each other.
Caruso latched onto a report that Bass was kind of a person of interest to federal prosecutors stemming from a master’s of social work degree she received from USC. Caruso tried mightily to tie Bass into the alleged financial wrongdoing of indicted L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas involving alleged play-for-pay deal making with USC. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing on Bass’s part.
Bass quickly hit back and charged that Caruso’s USC hands were dirty. She lambasted him for allegedly helping cover up the massive sexual abuse and harassment scandal at USC.
Caruso is the former head of the USC Board of Trustees and the one charged with cleaning up the school’s mess. Caruso was not directly complicit in the sex scandal, but he did not keep his promise to make transparent the report he was tasked with overseeing on all the sordid details of the years of sexual abuse and cover up by top USC school administrators.
In between the charges and countercharges, Bass’s home was broken into and a report revealed that Caruso spent nearly 20 times more per vote received than Bass did in the June primary.
The break-ins, busting the bank to get votes, charges of wrongdoing, coverups, allegations of ethics violations and sex scandals marred what almost certainly was destined to be a race unlike other mayoral race L.A. has seen in decades. But the real issue sandwiched in between the charge swapping is money, money and more money.
Caruso, more than any other L.A. mayoral candidate, has made this the issue in the L.A. mayor’s race. Caruso has continued to flood social media, and other outlets with a barrage of ads and promotional spots touting his candidacy while slamming Bass.
The gargantuan role that money plays in any election, be it local or national, is hardly the revelation of the ages. It’s been that way for decades.
There have been lots of attempts at the federal and local level to put some checks on how much can be spent on a contest. So far, the efforts haven’t done much to tighten the money faucet that candidates can spend on a race.
It’s now a well-established truism that the presidential contest is a billionaire’s derby. With big spending Caruso in the runoff with Bass, it can honestly be said that the L.A. mayor’s race is almost a billionaire’s derby, too.
The big knock is that if a big money candidate such as Caruso grabs City Hall, it will open the floodgates wide open for an even bigger wave of corporate developers to pepper the city with even more high-end retail and commercial developments.
Many critics and affordable housing advocates warn that this will make housing costs skyrocket even more, sharply reduce the amount of affordable housing in the city and soar the homeless numbers in the city. It also would reinforce the notion that City Hall is for sale to the highest bidder.
The mud slinging and big spending by Caruso and the response from Bass reinforces another notion: that politics is indeed a dirty business and that personal attacks and political venom more often than not wash out discussion of substantive issues that voters care about or should care about.
In the case of the L.A. mayor’s race, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The job is a plum job. L.A. 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, music and now sports. It’s the gateway to the big, economically muscular China, Japan, the Pacific Rim nations and Mexico.
The names of L.A. mayors are sometimes bandied about as possible presidential timber or as national administration cabinet officials.
However, beneath the glitter, glamor and prestige, there are problems — lots of them — that will confront the next top City Hall occupant. On any given day or night, many of L.A.’s streets, parks, and freeway overpasses look like Calcutta at its worst.
There have been bond measures, ramped up spending, hotel and resident vouchers, and sheltering, ordinances banning the homeless from this or that place, and police crackdowns. Yet, the battered makeshift tents and encampments that dot L.A. are everywhere.
Caruso has sadly proven it takes lots of money to win an office, almost any office. The L.A. mayorship tops the list of big money jobs.
That fact alone assures that in the stretch drive to the November election the dirt, the charges and countercharges will fly and Caruso’s cash spigot will flow like the Colorado River rapids.
Bass has continually talked about the crisis issues that face the city and her plans to tackle them. Caruso has put forth his plan. That’s all I and other L.A. voters want and need to hear from both of them.
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 Saturdays from 9 to 11 a.m. on KPFK 90.7 FM and the Pacifica Network.