The Los Angeles mayoral race has been rapidly narrowing into a heated contest between Rep. Karen Bass and shopping mall developer Rick Caruso, and that dynamic intensified on Tuesday as city attorney Mike Feuer said he was dropping out of the race and backing Bass.
Many voters have already received vote-by-mail ballots for the June 7 primary as they weigh who should replace outgoing Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as his ambassador to India. Caruso, a one-time Republican turned Democrat, has flooded the airwaves with ads and blanketed the city with mailers since he entered the race earlier this year – upending a race where Bass had once been seen as the clear front-runner.
As of late April, Caruso had spent nearly $24 million on his campaign – including more than $22 million that he loaned to his effort – according to filings with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Though the two have been effectively tied in recent polls, Bass had only spent less than $1.2 million, according to reports through April 23.
Feuer took a shot at Caruso’s ad campaign as he announced his support for Bass on Tuesday.
“Thirty-second ads don’t trump more than 30 years of results,” Feuer said in a statement. “Karen Bass is the only person in this race with the experience to bring our unhoused neighbors indoors, tackle our affordability crisis, and make our communities safer by getting guns off of our streets. The stakes of not getting this right are too high.”
Bass, who would become the first woman and the first Black woman to lead America’s second-largest city, has built a formidable coalition as a former social worker and community organizer who became known as a thoughtful and effective dealmaker during her years in the California State Assembly. She was so well-respected among her colleagues on Capitol Hill that Biden considered her as his running mate during the 2020 campaign.
But Caruso, a former member of the police commission, is attempting to tap into the anger and frustration about the city’s spiraling homelessness crisis and fears about the rise in crime. In polished debate performances, Caruso has made the case that 2022 is the right moment for a political outsider as he argues that career politicians have failed to solve the city’s problems.
Bass forcefully rejected that argument at one debate, chiding Caruso for denigrating “people who have devoted their lives to public service” and pointedly noted that “some people have dedicated their entire life to not making money” as they put their efforts into public policy.
Feuer had fashioned himself as the “people’s advocate,” visiting all 101 neighborhoods in LA as he laid out extensive plans to address homelessness, expedite the construction of both affordable housing and shelter for those living on the streets, and expand what he referred to as LA’s “depleted police force” to 10,000 officers. He has also been a leading advocate in recent years in trying to reduce gun violence.
The city attorney also landed some of the sharpest attacks on Caruso during recent mayoral debates, criticizing Caruso’s leadership as the chair of the University of California Board of Trustees, as well as the money that Caruso has poured in to self-fund his campaign – calling on the developer to release his full tax returns.
But as Caruso and Bass have dominated the field, the path for the other candidates has looked increasingly difficult as the race heads toward the June 7 primary, when the top two candidates will advance to the November election unless one receives more than 50% of the vote.
Last week, city council member Joe Buscaino, a former police officer, dropped out of the race and backed Caruso as the candidate most aligned with his goals.
Buscaino had said he would boost the ranks of the LAPD to 11,000 officers by 2027. During his time on the City Council, he has forcefully advocated for the clearing of homeless encampments and stricter anti-camping ordinances, arguing that the city’s laws have created dangerous conditions on the streets.
He also embarked on a signature collection initiative for a ballot measure that would have required the next mayor to produce a plan “to achieve functional zero homelessness” within three years and that would have also barred people from sleeping in public spaces if they refused offers for housing or emergency shelter. (That effort was paused when the city reached a tentative settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit demanding the creation of more shelter beds and housing units for the city’s unhoused).
In a statement, Buscaino said he and Caruso agree on “the playbook to solve the city’s pressing issues” and would work together to make Los Angeles “cleaner and safer for all.”