L.A. on the Record: The Garcetti factor in the mayor’s race

Mayor Eric Garcetti at a 2020 event.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by Councilman Curren Price, right, and other officials discuss the city’s efforts to address the homelessness crisis at a 2020 event.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our new local elections newsletter. It’s Dakota Smith and David Zahniser here, with an assist from Julia Wick and Jeong Park.

When it comes to mayoral elections, candidates like to talk about how they’ll do things differently than the current mayor.

When then-mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti ran in 2013, he promised a “back to basics” plan to restore city services that were cut during the recession under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Garcetti’s pledge to focus on the nuts and bolts of governing also followed some brash promises by Villaraigosa (such as planting 1 million trees and a takeover of L.A. schools) that didn’t fully materialize.

Housing prices and homelessness have felt out of control during Garcetti’s reign, so it’s no surprise that candidates are drawing the biggest contrast with mayor on those issues.

City Atty. Mike Feuer announced early in the race that he’d declare a state of emergency over homelessness, saying he could use the emergency status to commandeer buildings and tackle the “diffusion of authority” on homelessness. Garcetti has long resisted making such a declaration, arguing it wouldn’t give him new powers.

City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who wants a stricter L.A. anti-camping law than what Garcetti has backed, was asked about Garcetti’s strengths and weaknesses at the March 22 debate at USC. “He lost sight of what was happening on the ground,” Buscaino said, when talking about the mayor’s weaknesses.


Rep. Karen Bass also has said Garcetti failed to treat homelessness as an “emergency” and argues that the city and county need to get along better. Bass recently voiced her disappointment that mayor and the City Council declined to have L.A. take part in a county commission-led report on the region’s system for addressing homelessness.

Developer Rick Caruso is pitching ideas to address corruption at City Hall following the indictments and guilty pleas of current or former City Council members and two Garcetti appointees. While Garcetti has largely been hands off on reforms, Caruso wants to bar lobbyists from mayoral meetings at City Hall and create an ethics “czar” position.

Businessman Mel Wilson also has homed in on corruption, calling on the Department of Water and Power to lower its billing rates and perform a formal audit of its finances in the wake of an ongoing federal investigation.

At the same time, some candidates have praised Garcetti’s leadership on transportation and the city’s clean-energy goals, though they’ve also been criticized for failing to offer their own detailed plans on the issue of climate change. “[Garcetti] put us on a path toward sustainability with regard to water and energy and transportation,” Feuer said at the USC debate.

With Garcetti set to introduce his police budget in the coming weeks, police costs — and his record on crime and policing — could provide more fodder in the election, particularly for candidate Gina Viola, a community activist who has long called for the abolition of the Police Department.

Meanwhile, Garcetti has said that he likely won’t endorse a candidate in the race.

State of play

More money for Rick: Caruso has loaned his campaign an additional $2 million. To this point he’s poured $6 million of his own wealth into the campaign. The number is likely higher, and the public will get a fuller picture of his spending in late April when the next campaign finance disclosure forms are due.

Bass seemed likely to dominate the unofficial “Hollywood primary” early in the race, but Caruso has been gaining ground in industry circles. Producer Mike Medavoy and his wife, Irena, co-hosted a Nobu-catered event for Caruso that drew designer Rachel Zoe, retired boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and artist Alex Israel, among other Hollywood names. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel hosted a Caruso event Tuesday. Variety’s Gene Maddaus has more on the Hollywood divide when it comes to Caruso and Bass.

— Going for Asian American votes: Caruso is first out the gate with a Korean-language ad, as mayoral candidates work to win votes in the city’s fast-growing Asian American community. Describing Caruso as a grandson of immigrants, the ad features a shot of a Korean plaza along Western Avenue in Koreatown.


Expect more ads geared toward the Asian American Pacific Islander community in the coming weeks. Bass’ campaign plans advertising in Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese closer to the end of the month. De León’s campaign is planning a similar effort.

Where candidates stand on anti-camping ordinances: The Daily News editorial board asked mayoral candidates whether they would support the enforcement of a citywide anti-camping ordinance if shelter requirements set forth in Martin vs. Boise were met. Here’s what they said.

“If they don’t endorse me, f— them.”: That’s what Greg Good — one of the candidates competing to succeed Mike Bonin in Council District 11 — said in a Zoom breakout room during the Stonewall Democratic Club endorsement meeting. Good later apologized for the unfortunate hot mic moment, saying the comment was made “out of frustration after a very long day” and did not reflect his feelings about the club. The incident was first reported by Knock LA’s Jon Peltz. (The club didn’t reach a consensus on an endorsement for the CD 11 race.)

And in non-campaign news ...

More beds coming: Garcetti and the City Council announced Friday they’ve signed off on the broad terms of a legal settlement over homelessness, promising to open thousands of beds at a projected cost of up to $3 billion. The deal would end a two-year legal battle full of twists and turns. At one point in the case, a judge ordered the clearing of Skid Row. That ruling was later overturned.

Digging into the D.A.: Miriam Pawel has a deep dive on San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin’s background and the upcoming election to recall him from office. San Francisco voters’ verdict on Boudin will reverberate far beyond the city’s 47 square miles, including in Los Angeles, where Dist. Atty. George Gascón faces a potential recall.

A new L.A. initiative: A group of civic machers held an inaugural event Tuesday for “The Center for LA and New Urban Leadership.” The center was co-founded by Donna Bojarsky, Aaron Paley and Cecilia Estolano in partnership with Arizona State University’s California Center.


Campaign pledges and the People’s Budget

Last weekend, the People’s Budget candidate forum provided a platform for some of the city’s most progressive candidates — those who want to draw a line on LAPD spending and rein in the power of the police officers’ union. But one of the candidates who showed up wasn’t quite in sync with that message.

Wilson, a former Metro board member running to replace Garcetti, told the crowd gathered at Leimert Park that he had no intention of signing the “no new cops” pledge drafted by the People’s Budget L.A., the coalition that staged the event.

The San Fernando Valley businessman said he had just come from a community cleanup in Watts, where residents worked closely with police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

“We need more of that. So I support hiring more police,” Wilson said to a smattering of boos.

Those remarks set Wilson apart from the other two mayoral hopefuls onstage: Viola and neighborhood council member Alex Gruenenfelder Smith. Smith and Viola promised to sign all three pledges drafted by the coalition, which is led by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and is seeking to defund the LAPD.

Smith and Viola vowed not to hire more officers and agreed to engage in “participatory budgeting,” getting public input on how city money should be spent. They promised to reject campaign donations from police unions.


The contrasts didn’t stop there. One audience member pressed the candidates to address L.A.’s plans for the 2028 Olympics, saying she fears the event will lead to the eviction of low-income residents. Viola said she would fight to keep the Olympics out of L.A. Smith called the Games “fundamentally dangerous.”

“While there may be something fun about the Olympics, it’s not fun for the folks who are being displaced,” he said.

Wilson went his own way once again, saying the last time the Olympics were held in L.A., they generated millions of dollars for youth sports. “It’s a good thing for us,” he said.

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Quick hits

  • Who’s running the city? Still Garcetti. The mayor’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to India faces a tough Senate vote following questions about his aide’s alleged misconduct. On Thursday, Axios reported that Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has “concerns” about the sexual harassment allegations involving former Garcetti aide Rick Jacobs. A day earlier, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) offered a similar message. “Senator Kelly has concerns about this nomination based on the serious allegations raised by whistleblowers and is continuing to evaluate it,” a spokesman for the Arizona senator said. More on the battle over Garcetti’s nomination.

Speaking of Garcetti ... Alex Comisar, Garcetti’s director of communications, is headed to a new job, he confirmed. His last day at City Hall was Friday.

  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: The Buscaino campaign announced that Councilman John Lee and former Councilman David Ryu have endorsed him. Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) threw in his hat for Bass, who was also endorsed by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party did not endorse a mayoral candidate.
  • And in council endorsements... The Los Angeles County Democratic Party endorsed Gil Cedillo in CD 1, Bob Blumenfield in CD 3, Monica Rodriguez in CD 7, Curren Price in CD 9, Greg Good in CD 11, Mitch O’Farrell in CD 13 and Tim McOsker in CD 15. CD 11 candidate Traci Park was endorsed by the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. Stonewall Democratic Club also endorsed Blumenfield, Price and McOsker.

(If you have an endorsement you’d like to flag for next week, please send it to us.)

  • On the docket for next week: The Anti-Defamation League Los Angeles, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and the American Jewish Committee Los Angeles will host a CD 5 debate with Jimmy Biblarz, Scott Epstein, Sam Yebri and Katy Young Yaroslavsky on Tuesday. Also Tuesday: a mayoral forum on animal welfare hosted by Democrats for the Protection of Animals with Buscaino, De León and Feuer and a Knock LA sheriff candidate forum.

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