L.A. on the Record: The long slog ahead

People use push brooms to sweep up in an open area of a mall.
Workers at the Grove clean up confetti after Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso’s speech to supporters on primary night.
(Julia Wick / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s Julia Wick with an assist from Ben Oreskes.

The divergence between California and other parts of the country has rarely been starker than on Friday morning, when the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision and ruled that states could again outlaw abortion.

Access to abortion in California will continue to be protected under state law, and those rights will probably be expanded soon by Democratic leaders. Local elected officials quickly decried the decision, as did mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass.

Caruso’s past donations to antiabortion politicians have already been an issue in the race, albeit one that failed to gain much traction despite the efforts of Bass allies. With the high court’s historical reversal now a reality, those attacks on Caruso’s past may grow more potent.


Bass hit him on the subject directly for the first time in a fundraising email Friday morning, touting Caruso’s donation history and writing that the “city may be at risk.” (Caruso has repeatedly affirmed his support for abortion rights during the campaign and tweeted Friday that he was “heartbroken and outraged” by the Supreme Court’s decision.)

And now on to this week’s election news.

After a frenzied few months of politicking followed by dramatically shifting ballot results in the week after the primary, all is finally relatively quiet on the election front.

Primary results have yet to be certified, but the current mayoral vote totals — Bass leading with 43% support to Caruso’s 36% — are unlikely to change much. So what comes next?

The shape of this year’s mayoral election season looks very different from years past, with a 22-week slog between June 7 and Nov. 8.

The competitive mayoral elections of recent memory have been more sprint than marathon, with runoffs typically held about two months after the primary.

Back in 2013, when then-City Councilman Eric Garcetti and then-Controller Wendy Greuel closed out the city’s last open mayoral primary as the top-two finishers, the path to the runoff was 11 weeks long.

John Shallman, who served as Greuel’s campaign manager, said fundraising was the chief concern in the weeks immediately following the 2013 primary. Shallman also ran City Atty. Mike Feuer’s campaign in the 2022 mayoral cycle, before Feuer dropped out to endorse Bass.


Because funds raised in the primary election can’t carry over to the general, mayoral candidates typically face pressure to quickly refill their campaign coffers before the runoff battle.

Caruso’s ability to tap into his personal fortune ameliorates that pressure and frees him from the time-intensive burden of fundraising, whereas Bass will be playing catchup to compete with his seemingly unlimited campaign funding. (Caruso put nearly $40 million of his own money into his campaign during the primary; it remains unclear how much he’ll add before the runoff.)

But Bass’ strong primary lead will probably be a boon to fundraising efforts for both her campaign and independent expenditure committee. The longer schedule in this year’s election could also work to her benefit, since it gives her more time to raise money before campaigning returns to fever pitch in the fall.

A recent email to Bass donors shows a long list of fundraising events ahead, including a reception in Sacramento early next week hosted by California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

Back in 2013, Garcetti and Greuel were Democratic city officials with relatively similar visions for the future of L.A. That race still got plenty ugly, but the daylight between the candidates’ thematic positioning was much narrower.

The sharp distinctions between Bass, a longtime public servant with roots in South L.A. community organizing, and Caruso, a billionaire former Republican running as a political outsider, make for a different landscape.

This year’s race also is playing out against a much more chaotic political backdrop.

“The biggest issue in 2013 in the runoff was who’s going to be mayor,” Shallman said. But the focus in November 2022 will probably be split among a host of other issues, including abortion rights, gun control and high-profile House races. Candidates also will be competing with costly state ballot measure campaigns for TV airtime.

“There’s so many bigger, broader national issues that local candidates and campaigns have to break through,” he said, noting that, for city voters, a controversial sheriff’s race and a possible vote to recall Dist. Atty. George Gascón could also compete for ballot attention.

A few things to watch for in the weeks ahead:

  • With a five-point lead on election night, Caruso declared his campaign a “victory story” just before a mountain of confetti rained down on partygoers at the Grove. Voters, he said, had sent a clear message about wanting change. But two weeks later — as this reporter was still finding stray pieces of blue and white confetti tucked into the far reaches of her purse — the directive issued by voters looked very different, with Bass now leading by more than 7 percentage points. Caruso and his top-tier consultants have been incredibly disciplined about their campaign messaging, with a laser focus on crime, homelessness and “cleaning up” the city. Will they tweak or expand those themes as we head into fall? And will Caruso step up his attacks on Bass in the months to come?
  • The primary totals looked quite different in 2013, with the third- and fourth-place finishers garnering a larger share of support. Kevin James and then-Councilmember Jan Perry — who both ultimately endorsed Garcettitook in about 16% of the vote apiece. As of the most recent count, this year’s third-place finisher, Councilmember Kevin de León, had just under 8% of the vote, and fourth-place finisher Gina Viola was just under 7%. Neither have endorsed yet, though Viola put out a statement this week challenging Bass to move to the left to win Viola’s support.


WILL BIDEN OR HARRIS ENDORSE BASS? Throughout the primary, Bass and Caruso rolled out endorsements regularly, sewing up support from a wide range of celebrities, labor groups and politicians. Now that the primary is over, the question is whether the Democratic Party’s big guns will show up for the longtime legislator.

Such public commitments from high-profile party figures would help Bass draw a sharp distinction with Caruso, who only recently registered as a Democrat and is new to electoral politics. My colleagues Ben Oreskes and Noah Bierman, White House correspondent, took a deep look at at President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ calculus of whether to endorse Bass in the general election.

— PLUS, WHY THE MARCIA FUDGE VISIT MATTERED: One moment that stood out to Ben and Noah was when Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge visited Los Angeles the week before the primary at Bass’ request. This trip to a subsidized apartment building was technically in her official capacity, paid for with U.S. tax dollars rather than Bass campaign funds.

But Fudge’s presence fit neatly with Bass’ central campaign argument — that her lifetime in Democratic politics and national connections are an asset in fixing the city’s most urgent problems. A spokesman for Fudge called her appearance with Bass, which did not include a political endorsement, “routine” and just one of many visits to cities she’s made across the country.

This week, HUD announced more rental vouchers would become available nationwide along with $322 million more in funds to help shrink the unsheltered homeless population, Bloomberg reports. A HUD spokesman estimated that about $100 million of this money could end up coming to the Los Angeles region.

INTERNAL TURMOIL AT CARUSO’S DIGITAL FIRM: Staffers at leading progressive digital firm Aisle 518 Strategies have staged something of a revolt over the firm’s work for the Caruso campaign. Per this Politico story, at least two employees at the firm “have left, in part because of its association with the billionaire real estate developer.”

LOS ANGELES GOES LEFT: The Times’ ever-trenchant columnist Erika D. Smith has an interesting piece about recent election results and why L.A., not San Francisco, could become the most progressive city in California.

And in non-campaign news ...

WILL THE GEORGE GASCÓN RECALL REACH THE BALLOT? With its war chest growing and its signature tally estimated to be at or above the 569,000 needed by July 6 to trigger a recall election, the campaign to recall progressive L.A.’s progressive district attorney has launched an all-out blitz to reach the finish line. Reporter James Queally takes a look inside the final push.

WESSON LAWSUIT: A state official cleared the way for a group of South Los Angeles community leaders to sue over the selection of Herb Wesson as a temporary member of the Los Angeles City Council, throwing the future of his City Hall appointment into question. The former City Council president was tapped to serve as a temporary replacement for Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was suspended in the fall.

COUNCIL APPROVES HOTEL WORKER PROTECTIONS: Most hotels in the city of Los Angeles will be required to limit the daily workload of housekeepers, offer overtime pay under certain circumstances, provide “panic buttons” to protect their workers from sexual harassment and do away with policies that automatically forgo daily cleaning, under a measure approved Tuesday by the council. In a separate vote, the council voted to boost the minimum wage for workers at privately owned hospitals to $25 an hour, rather than sending the question to the November ballot for voters to decide.

“HIT THESE GUYS UP”: An aide to former City Councilman Jose Huizar took the stand this week in the trial of a real estate developer accused of paying a $500,000 bribe. Esparza said he was assigned to hit up developers for campaign donations, concert tickets and other benefits. “I was taught to be very clear on what the message was,” he said. “If you don’t help the councilman with his requests, your project will be stalled.”

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.


  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador of India awaits a Senate vote.
  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: Teamsters Joint Council 42 endorsed Bass for mayor.

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

  • A politics-adjacent poem for your Saturday morning coffee: “Mehr Licht,” by Tim Dlugos.

Stay in touch

That’s it for this week! Send your questions, comments and gossip to Did a friend forward you this email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Saturday morning.