L.A. on the Record: Bass inches toward the airwaves

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, businessman Rick Caruso during the mayoral debate.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and businessman Rick Caruso during the mayoral debate at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on March 22.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s Ben Oreskes and Julia Wick here taking you on a spin through the latest in Los Angeles politics.

A few weeks ago while out interviewing voters for a story on public safety, we approached a man playing with his toddler in a Studio City park and asked whether the issue was important to him (it was) and if he knew any of the candidates’ positions.

“I’m not thinking of the guy’s name, but I know he’s clearly making it one of his key issues alongside homelessness,” the man said. “What’s his last name? Not Cochran ...”


“Yeah, Caruso. And is Karen Bass still running?” he asked.

Yes, very much so.

But the man’s question spoke to the fact that Rick Caruso’s seemingly unlimited campaign funds have allowed him to splash his face across the airwaves and carpet bomb people’s mailboxes with campaign fliers. Without a similar financial arsenal, the Bass campaign has been comparatively quiet.


Early polling put her as the clear frontrunner, but this week started with a bang: A new poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed Caruso was slightly ahead of Bass among likely voters in the Los Angeles mayor’s race.

The developer’s ascent from 8% to 24% was fueled — at least in part — by that influx of cash. The billionaire is slated to spend more than $11 million on digital and TV advertising by next week, according to data from analytics tracking firm AdImpact.

“If Bass were an ultra-wealthy real estate developer with millions to lend herself, I’ll bet her polling numbers would have tripled, too,” Bass spokeswoman Anna Bahr tweeted Monday.

Millions of dollars in ad money probably would have moved Bass’ numbers up. But that hypothetical doesn’t do much for the facts on the ground. In recent weeks, some in the Bass orbit have begun quietly raising questions about how much ground the congresswoman is losing to Caruso in the interim.

Not everyone yet knows who he is — nearly 40% of likely voters said they didn’t know enough about Caruso to say whether they liked him. And nearly 40% of likely voters surveyed were undecided. Still, pollsters and other political consultants told us that having been on the airwaves alone has given Caruso the opportunity to define himself early and make up ground he may have lost from jumping into the race late.

But Caruso’s time with the airwaves to himself will soon end.

Communities United for Bass for L.A. Mayor 2022 — an independent expenditure committee supporting Bass’ mayoral campaign — launched a digital ad Friday that they also planned to put on TV. The biographical 30-second spot dives into the congresswoman’s work in South L.A., her time in Sacramento and plugs her plan to address the homelessness crisis.


The digital ad will be on multiple platforms, including social media sites and streaming services, and targeted to women, according to committee Chair Morgan Miller. The initial ad buy is for $50,000, according to ethics filings.

“Karen’s background, experience, and message appeals to women across our diverse city,” Miller said in a statement. “It’s time to break down that glass ceiling and elect our city’s first female mayor.”

The spot will move to broadcast TV “in the coming weeks,” Miller said, though the group did not provide a date.

Bahr did not specify whether the campaign had any TV plans before the primary but said they planned to send out mailers and run digital ads by the first week of May when ballots dropped. They have had a relatively minimal digital ad presence thus far, spending just over $32,000 on Facebook ads. (Remember, Bass’ campaign and the independent expenditure committee supporting her candidacy are separate entities that can’t communicate with each other.)

So far, several big Hollywood names have put money into the I.E., including DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg ($250,000), J.J. Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, ($125,000 each), Barry Meyer and his wife, Wendy Smith Meyer ($50,000 each), Carol Biondi ($12,000) and Jennifer Garner ($5,000), according to ethics filings. Philanthropist Edythe Broad put in $25,000, and an SEIU Local 721 committee contributed $150,000.

“Rick Caruso has used his wealth and privilege to buy himself access to power and influence his entire life. Now he’s trying to buy his way into the mayor’s office,” Miller said of Caruso’s spending.

Caruso spokesman Peter Ragone did not take kindly to Miller’s comments, saying in response: “It’s deeply disappointing to see Karen Bass and her wealthy special interest donors resort to this. It’s no wonder that homelessness is out of control, crime is up and corruption is rampant.”

Veteran political strategist Darry Sragow knows a thing or two about self-financed candidates. He worked on the gubernatorial campaigns of Steve Westly and Al Checchi — two dudes who spent big and lost. Caruso will continue to dominate the airwaves, he said, but that won’t be the silver bullet that wins him an election.


What’s more important, he said, is the voters need to like you.

“Ultimately, you can show your face to voters nonstop 24/7 365, and it’s not going to work if they don’t get the right feeling about you,” Sragow said. “Everyone is going to get to know Rick Caruso. The question is, how do they feel about him?”

State of play

L.A.’s Asian American vote: Jeong Park explains how, in past elections, Asian Americans were sometimes considered an afterthought, a source of campaign cash more than votes. This year’s election is different. Candidates are wooing the city’s fastest-growing ethnic group, who make up nearly 1 in 10 voters, through town halls, ads in Asian languages and interviews with ethnic media.

Unexpected bedfellows: A quartet of insurgent candidates held a protest outside Cal State Los Angeles this week, demanding to be included in a May 1 debate at the university. Mel Wilson, Craig Greiwe, Alex Gruenenfelder and Gina Viola’s debate inclusion campaign got a boost from an unexpected supporter Wednesday, when Caruso tweeted his support and challenged “Karen, Kevin, Joe and Mike to call on Cal State to include the candidates.”

Bass’ big Mariachi Plaza event: Bass launched a new effort on Tuesday to broaden her reach with Latino voters, with high-profile surrogates like former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Dolores Huerta making the case for why Latinos should support her campaign.

Stepping back: “Angelenos may complain about state and national government like other Californians, but we also have a practice of using Sacramento and D.C. as training grounds for our local politicians,” columnist Joe Mathews writes for Zocalo Public Square. “Only after they’ve proven themselves in the state Legislature or Congress (or really, anywhere but here) do we feel comfortable elevating them to higher office.”

And in non-campaign news ...

— Don’t dump here: Illegal dumping was top of mind this week at the City Council, as several members proposed hiring more sanitation workers and acquiring more trucks to tackle the problem.


A hard look at the homeless care system: Our colleague Doug Smith takes stock of how outreach workers and others who are formerly homeless but now work with people on the streets don’t feel their perspective is given enough credence when thinking about this crisis.

Garcetti’s last State of the City

Our latest polling revealed something that might surprise folks who are terminally online: Mayor Eric Garcetti is not as unpopular as Twitter users might think. In fact, the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, co-sponsored by The Times, found that 48% of likely voters in the June primary approve and 46% disapprove of Garcetti’s handling of his job.

As Dakota Smith writes, the poll revealed notable data about perceptions of the mayor and candidates in this year’s mayoral election: Voters supportive of Caruso were more likely to disapprove of Garcetti’s performance, while voters who backed Bass were likely to approve of the mayor.

The mayor takes a selfie with a woman on a bridge
Mayor Eric Garcetti takes a selfie with city employee Michelle Vergara on the 6th Street bridge on Thursday after delivering the State of the City address.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Garcetti gave his final State of the City address on the unfinished 6th Street bridge Thursday morning, vowing to ensure that L.A is clean and safe.

Delivered at a time when his own future remains in flux, Thursday’s speech marked a stark contrast to Garcetti’s buoyant first State of the City address nearly a decade ago.


Addressing a packed auditorium at the California Science Center in April 2014, Garcetti touted crime being “down to historic lows.” Homelessness was not mentioned during that 32-minute speech, which laid out a “back to basics” agenda focused on public safety, economic prosperity, quality of life and a well-run city government.

Two of the then-council members mentioned in that 2014 address have since been indicted on federal corruption charges. And issues of homelessness and public safety — which have come to dominate the 2022 mayor’s race — also figured largely in this year’s address.

After Thursday’s speech, Garcetti posed for photos with various configurations of the council members, deputy mayors and general managers present in the small audience on the bridge.

“What a journey, huh?” the mayor’s father, Gil Garcetti, said as he greeted someone at the edge of the crowd.

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Quick hits

  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador of India awaits a Senate vote.
  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck is endorsing Caruso in a new video (set to be released by the campaign this weekend) in which he touts Caruso’s business credentials. Six Korean American community and business leaders said they were backing Caruso this week, including the president and chairman of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce. (Note: Last week we mentioned that the SEIU local that represents resident physicians endorsed Bass. It was actually a dual endorsement for Bass and De León.)
  • And other city endorsements: Progressive group L.A. Forward Action has endorsed Eunisses Hernandez for City Council District 1, Erin Darling for City Council District 11 and Hugo Soto-Martinez for City Council District 13. The Sierra Club endorsed Bob Blumenfield in CD 3, Katy Young Yaroslavsky in CD 5, Monica Rodriguez in CD 7 and Mitch O’Farrell in CD 13. Communities for a Better Environment’s political arm endorsed Bryant Odega in CD 15. City attorney candidate Kevin James was endorsed by the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters. Fellow city attorney candidate Richard Kim was endorsed by the same list of Korean American community leaders who endorsed Caruso.

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

  • Dig of the week:
    — Stuart Waldman, who helms Valley Industry & Commerce Assn., had the margin-of-error a bit wrong in our latest poll. It was +/- 3.5%. Still the point he makes holds!
  • On the docket for next week: Next weekend, The Times’ Festival of Books returns with two days of in-person events, including several great conversations about local and national politics. On Wednesday, the Southern California Assn. of Nonprofit Housing will host a mayoral candidate forum with Bass, City Atty. Mike Feuer, Councilman Joe Buscaino, businessman Ramit Varma and activist Gina Viola.

Stay in touch

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