L.A. on the Record: Optics on the campaign trail
Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s Julia Wick, pouring one out for Vin Scully this weekend, as is the rest of the city. Jim Rainey also contributed to this morning’s edition.
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The rabbi approached one of the TV reporters just after the candidate finished speaking. Would it be possible, the rabbi politely asked, not to use B-roll footage of the candidate with the rabbi in it?
It was Tuesday, and they were standing in the rotunda of West L.A.’s Museum of Tolerance where Rick Caruso had just held a brief news conference decrying the surge in hate incidents in the city, particularly antisemitic and anti-Asian crimes, and urging Angelenos to visit the museum. The footage in question was taken a few minutes before, when Caruso toured a new exhibit at the museum, trailed by cameras.
It was, in many ways, a typical stop on the mayoral trail: A candidate visits a symbolically important local institution, community leaders show up, and the constituency the event is intended to appeal to — in this case, likely, Westside Jews — hopefully catches it on TV.
These occurrences are a constant during campaign season, particularly in a city with as many distinct minority communities as L.A. (most of which are also internally diverse, with their own competing constituencies and views).
In recent months, Caruso has visited Latino businesses in Boyle Heights, toured the Los Angeles LGBT Center and met with Chinatown merchants and Korean leaders, among far too many other events to mention. His opponent, Rep. Karen Bass, has a similarly long list.
But this particular visit — and the presence of reporters like myself — also speaks to the sometimes fraught nature of these events, and the delicate line between building important relationships with would-be leaders and appearing to show public support for their candidacies.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the museum’s parent organization, does not endorse candidates, as Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s director of global social action, made clear during the news conference.
And Caruso and the Wiesenthal Center’s rabbis weren’t the only heavy hitters in attendance. As Caruso and museum leaders addressed the bank of microphones, a who’s who of the L.A. Jewish establishment also milled around the rotunda, mostly avoiding the cameras.
The crowd included local leadership from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, Jewish World Watch and the Orthodox Union, none of which endorse candidates, among other attendees.
Most of the group had been expecting a private conversation with Caruso, similar to the one they had had with Bass nine days earlier. Rabbi Cooper took care to make sure the media were aware of the previous Bass event, saying that the group would be “asking the same questions they asked Karen Bass.”
The issue, for at least some of the attendees, was one of appearances.
The Bass meeting, which was held at a private home on the Westside late last month, was off the record, and the media were not notified. Jonathan Bass (no relation), a politically active entrepreneur who helped organize both meetings, said he aimed to bring together leaders from across the spectrum of the city’s Jewish community to build relationships with both would-be mayors. The goal was a frank conversation, where they could voice real concerns and hear real answers from candidates.
“We did not want meetings with the optics that it was an endorsement. The optics were supposed to be off the record,” as were the attendees, he said.
The Caruso meeting itself did remain off the record, with Caruso and the attendees moving to a private room upstairs for lunch just before 12:30 p.m.
Caruso spokesperson Peter Ragone said the campaign always vets press advisories with groups they work with, but they typically go through an organizer and do not reach out to individual participants.
The advisory that the Caruso campaign sent to news media on Tuesday morning touted a meeting “with L.A. Jewish leaders” to discuss his vision for the city, though it did not list names or organizations.
The confusion appears to have stemmed from a miscommunication. Rabbi Cooper said the campaign had informed him several days before that they would be sending out an advisory about Caruso’s visit to the museum. Cooper said he didn’t expect media to show up but was happy for them to film Caruso visiting the museum’s new permanent exhibit. Other attendees who spoke to The Times were not aware that reporters would be there until they arrived at the museum.
The fact that President Biden had endorsed Bass earlier that morning probably played a role in drawing additional reporters to the event, with many eager for an on-camera response from Caruso.
Richard S. Hirschhaut, the regional director of the American Jewish Committee Los Angeles, said that given the location at the museum, he wasn’t shocked by the presence of TV cameras, but he still hadn’t expected it.
“I probably would have shown up at 12:30 instead of at noon had I known,” Hirschhaut said. He hung back from the group during the museum tour to avoid cameras because of the nonpartisan nature of his organization, he said.
“There were five or six of us who were actively trying not to be on camera,” said another attendee, who bristled at the idea that their presence might be used for political advantage.
Issues of optics aside, multiple attendees spoke highly of the content of both the Bass and Caruso meetings, describing serious, thoughtful discussions about homelessness, public safety and rising antisemitism in the city.
“The Jewish community is a significant and vocal and engaged player in Los Angeles civic life,” Hirschhaut said. “And we believe it is important to have an open channel and a constructive dialogue with both Rep. Bass and Mr. Caruso, to hear their perspectives and to share our hopes and aspirations for a better Los Angeles.”
State of play
— BASS BRINGS IN THE BIG GUNS: Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris endorsed Bass’ mayoral campaign on Tuesday. Sitting presidents do not typically weigh in on intra-party battles or in mayoral races, though there had been speculation about a possible Biden-Harris endorsement in recent months.
— DIM SUM MOVES: This is not quite mayoral news, nor is it in the city of Los Angeles ... but still an important update for mall-goers seeking quality xiao long bao: After nearly 10 years at Caruso’s the Americana at Brand mall, Din Tai Fung has announced plans to relocate to the neighboring Glendale Galleria in the fall of 2023.
— L.A.'s “BAD REPUTATION” FOR BUSINESS: When executives are asked about what it’s like to operate in Los Angeles, they say either “the city doesn’t care about business, or the city is hostile to business,” Bass said in an interview with Bloomberg. She said the city has “a bad reputation when it comes to business” and vowed to appoint a deputy mayor focused on business issues if elected.
— VILLARAIGOSA WADES INTO CD 11: Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has thrown his support behind Traci Park in the race to represent Council District 11. Villaraigosa said Friday that Park, an attorney who represents cities and special districts, would be a pragmatic problem solver who would work with people across the ideological spectrum to get things done. Villaraigosa compared Park favorably to Cindy Miscikowski, who served for eight years representing the same coastal district. The Park campaign plans to release a video of Villaraigosa on Monday, making the endorsement official. Park finished second in the June primary to public interest lawyer Erin Darling.
And in non-campaign news ...
— SEE YOU IN 2024: A controversial measure that would require hotels in Los Angeles to rent vacant rooms to homeless people will go before voters in 2024, the City Council decided Friday. The council rejected an option that would have skipped the public vote and enacted the ordinance directly.
— ANOTHER WRINKLE IN CD 10: The unending mishigas over representation in Council District 10 took yet another turn this week, with the judge who temporarily barred Herb Wesson from performing L.A. City Council duties recusing herself from the case. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel cited her work with a commission that recommended changes to the City Charter in 1999 — legislative history that is now potentially relevant to the case.
— SUPES VS. THE SHERIFF, CONTINUED: Los Angeles County voters will decide in November whether to give the Board of Supervisors the power to remove an elected sheriff from office, as my colleague Alene Tchekmedyian reports. The proposal, which stems from supervisors’ long-running feud with Sheriff Alex Villanueva, would severely undercut the autonomy sheriffs in L.A. County have always been granted and hand an extraordinary level of authority to the already powerful supervisors.
— THE VIEW ACROSS THE ORANGE CURTAIN: The San Clemente City Council is set to consider a resolution in a couple of weeks that would declare the coastal Orange County city a “sanctuary for life,” making it an abortion-free zone.
— NO CHESA BOUDIN REMATCH IN S.F.: The former San Francisco district attorney, who was ousted in a June recall election, announced Thursday that he would not run again in November, averting what Politico’s Jeremy B. White described as “a second bruising clash over criminal justice.”
THE PROTEST IN COUNCIL CHAMBERS
The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to prohibit homeless people from setting up tents within 500 feet of schools and day-care centers, dramatically expanding the number of locations where sleeping and camping are off-limits.
The vote came during a raucous meeting where protesters shouted down council members and, at one point, brought the meeting to a halt.
As my colleagues David Zahniser and Ben Oreskes report, audience members repeatedly chanted “shut it down” as Councilmember Joe Buscaino, a longtime proponent of increased enforcement, attempted to speak in favor of the restrictions. Council President Nury Martinez then stopped the meeting for more than an hour before protesters cleared out and the session resumed.
In a campaign email, Councilmember Paul Koretz — who is currently a candidate for city controller — compared the nonviolent council protest to the Jan. 6 insurrection, where a violent mob breached the U.S. Capitol and assaulted numerous police officers. (My colleague Ben Oreskes was in the room on Tuesday and said it bore no relation to what transpired at the Capitol more than a year ago. His take: “Yes, protesters shouted and disrupted the council session, but eventually they walked out the front door and no one was arrested, much less killed.”)
Koretz attacked his opponent, Kenneth Mejia, for being present in council chambers during the meeting. He also raised issue with the fact that Mejia’s campaign manager had posted on social media, urging her followers to attend the meeting and oppose the proposal.
Mejia responded via Twitter, saying, “Our opponent, Paul Koretz, & his out-of-touch Dem consultants LOST SO BADLY in June that they’re getting DESPERATE & compared our campaign manager to a Jan 6 insurrectionist. When we landslide Koretz & his consultants on Nov 8, we hope they never return to politics.”
The post was accompanied by a screen shot of vote totals, documenting Mejia’s nearly 20-point lead over Koretz in the primary.
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- Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador of India awaits a Senate vote.
- The latest in mayoral endorsements: Along with Biden and Harris, the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley backed Bass.
- And other endorsements: L.A. County supervisor candidate Bob Hertzberg was endorsed by state Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, Assembly member Luz Rivas (D-North Hollywood), AFSCME Local 1902 and SEIU Local 2015. The Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley endorsed Hertzberg’s opponent, Lindsey Horvath. Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project Los Angeles County Action Fund backed Tim McOsker in the CD 15 race. Abundant Housing L.A. backed Faisal Gill in the city attorney race, as did the reform-minded Los Angeles City Attorney Coalition. The Women’s Political Committee and District 36 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades backed Gill’s opponent, Hydee Feldstein Soto.
(If you have an endorsement you’d like to flag for next week, please send it to us.)
- On the docket for next week: Not a lot, although Bass’ Zoom fundraiser with Hillary Clinton is on Monday. Which feels like a good time to remind our L.A. on the Record readers that we always welcome recordings, gossip and general observations from candidate fundraisers!
- A very L.A. poem to enjoy with your Saturday morning coffee: “I Live for My Car,” by Wanda Coleman.
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