L.A. on the Record: Wooing women voters

Side by side photos of a man in a suit and tie and a woman in glasses and a suit jacket.
Los Angeles mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Karen Bass are sharpening their efforts to appeal to female voters.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s Julia Wick, with help from Dave Zahniser.

During much of the leadup to the primary, Rep. Karen Bass appeared to shy away from the barrier-breaking aspects of her campaign.

You occasionally heard surrogates tout her potential to be the first Black woman elected mayor of the city, but it was usually on their own time. The messaging was largely absent from official campaign events and almost never came out of the mouth of the candidate.

That’s changed as of late.

At a Zoom fundraiser this month, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about how Bass “would be the first woman to run the city of Los Angeles.”

Standing with Bass to pledge her support last week, City Council President Nury Martinez described the moment as one “we could have only dreamed of as little girls: the first Latina council president endorsing the first woman mayor of the city of Los Angeles.” (Cue a very loud chorus of applause from the crowd.)

A week later, Bass herself leaned into gender identity as she took aim at her opponent Rick Caruso’s newly announced women’s economic agenda.

“My opponent is going to elevate women by having a deputy mayor of women. To me, it seems a little tokenistic,” she told a group over breakfast in Sherman Oaks on Thursday. “But I have another idea for him. How about having an actual woman mayor?”


There are plenty of reasons why Bass might have been hesitant to embrace the “first woman mayor” storyline earlier in the election, but recent history provides one obvious theory: Running an #Imwithher campaign that puts gender and history-making in the foreground is not an inherently winning strategy. (Just ask Clinton. Or Wendy Greuel, who was sitting a few feet from Bass when she spoke Thursday.)

“I really believe that voters aren’t going to vote for her just because she’s a woman. … Voters are almost offended if you imply that you should vote for someone because they’re a woman,” said Lindsay Bubar, a political consultant who served as Greuel’s political director in the 2013 mayoral race. Bubar supports Bass but is uninvolved with either candidate in the race.

“What does change people’s calculus, and in the end their vote,” Bubar said, “is if you explain to them why that matters.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade has loomed large in the background of the race. The Roe decision played into the campaign’s shift to start talking about the importance of electing a woman mayor, it said.

If Bass wants to frame the race as — to quote a recent news release — a “stark choice” between a self-described “lifelong advocate for women’s health care and equality — and Rick Caruso’s anti-choice record,” her identity as a woman only strengthens that narrative.

(Caruso has been outspoken and unwavering about his support for abortion rights throughout the campaign. The Caruso campaign has said, “Rick has always been pro-choice,” though a 2007 interview and his prior financial support of antiabortion politicians paint a less clear-cut picture of the past.)

Making his own bid for women voters this week, Caruso unveiled his “Make L.A. Work for Women” policy agenda during a brief Zoom roundtable with women business leaders Wednesday.

The plan’s Day One commitments include pledging gender parity in his administration, using the mayoral bully pulpit to market L.A. as a city that protects women’s freedoms, and appointing the deputy mayor focused on women and the economy that Bass criticized. Other policy priorities include expanding the number of city contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses and using institutional resources to provide care for families.

Tracy Hernandez, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Business Federation and an informal, unpaid Caruso campaign advisor who consulted on the plan, praised it as serious and comprehensive.


Hernandez also touted Caruso’s track record at his company. Fifty-one percent of employees in leadership positions at Caruso’s eponymously named company are women, according to the campaign. Caruso also has named a woman to succeed him as chief executive. Corinne Verdery, the company’s chief development officer, will take over as CEO on Sept. 1.

“Rick put forward a solution to build on what his proven record is: that he values women and he knows how to get parity and equity to them,” Hernandez said, saying Caruso would bring that same lens to the city.

Bass campaign spokesperson Sarah Leonard Sheahan criticized the Caruso announcement as nonsubstantive and tone-deaf. She took particular issue with the deputy mayor aspect, saying, “he’s treating 50% of the population as a category that needs a special office.”

Caruso’s announcement also took some flack on Twitter along similar lines from a number of prominent Bass supporters, including actress Rosario Dawson, Women’s March Action founder Emiliana Guereca and Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark J. Gonzalez.

Hernandez, the Caruso advisor, suggested the Bass campaign was trying to deflect attention from the fact that it hadn’t yet released a plan on gender equity. A platform addressing policies that uplift women and families in the city will be released in the coming weeks, said Leonard Sheahan, the Bass spokesperson.

Female voters turned out at a slightly higher rate than male voters during the primary, according to an analysis from consulting firm Political Data Intelligence.

We don’t have gender-specific data on who those women actually voted for. But the last Times/Berkeley IGS poll before the primary (which included all 12 candidates on the ballot) portrayed a large gender gap, with Bass leading Caruso by 19 points among women and Caruso leading by 8 points among men.

State of play

— NEW POLLING: A poll released by the PAC supporting Bass’ candidacy shows her with an 11-point lead in a head-to-head matchup with Caruso, with support from 49% of likely voters to Caruso’s 38%. Undecideds still account for 13% of likely voters, according to the poll.

Caruso campaign spokesperson Peter Ragone said that their internal polling, which he declined to share with The Times, showed very different topline numbers. Ragone then texted a poo emoji to further convey his thoughts about the PAC’s poll.

The PAC’s survey did show Caruso with two major advantages, according to a memo detailing the poll shown to The Times: A large plurality of voters see him as the candidate who “will do more to reduce crime” and as the candidate who “has a plan to reduce homelessness.”

— BIG RECALL NEWS: A second effort to force Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón into a recall election fizzled out Monday after officials determined that the campaign to boot him from office had failed to gain enough valid signatures, as my colleague James Queally reports. Should the Gascón recall have qualified, it likely would have appeared on the November ballot. Political watchers generally thought such an outcome would aid Caruso, since it would energize a base of voters more likely to support him. But it’s a moot point now.

— IT’S A MALL WORLD: Amid a campaign in which Caruso’s developments have been seen as proxies for his vision for the city, the candidate’s business interests at the Grove (and their intersections with the campaign) were center stage this week. Caruso’s company is enmeshed in a fight over plans to modernize and expand L.A.’s storied CBS Television City studios, next to the Grove. The development battle could complicate Caruso’s message as a businessman focused on strengthening the region’s economy. And it raises questions about how Caruso, if elected, would respond to businesses whose activities are potentially at odds with his company’s interests.

In a separate kerfuffle, two activists are suing Caruso’s company for the right to protest the candidate at the Grove. Due to state Supreme Court precedent, California’s free speech protections go beyond the 1st Amendment to protect free speech at privately owned shopping malls, making it an interesting legal case.

— MONEY TALKS: Caruso poured $3,575,000 into his campaign this week, which brings the total he’s put in to at least $43.8 million, according to city ethics filings.

— MORE CAMPAIGN MOVES: Former mayoral candidate Jessica Lall has joined the Caruso campaign as chief economic advisor, and Lall’s deputy campaign manager, Jessica Duboff, has joined as business outreach director. Daniel Lopez (who was on the Kevin de León campaign in the primary) is leading Caruso’s field efforts, and Curt Black is now the camp’s digital director.

Over in Bass land, Tiffany Massey has joined as digital director.

And in non-campaign news ...

— ETHICS AND ENGLANDER: Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander recently did a stint in federal prison — punishment that followed his guilty plea in a federal obstruction-of-justice case. But another shoe dropped Wednesday, with the former councilman receiving a fine of nearly $80,000 from the city Ethics Commission for violating city and state gift laws. Englander admitted to the commission that he failed to properly report gifts he received while in office, including two envelopes containing cash. He also admitted to misusing his position as an elected official.

— CARS NO MORE: L.A.’s Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners voted this week to make a ban on cars permanent along a stretch of Griffith Park Drive. That stretch, which runs about two-thirds of a mile from the Travel Town railway museum to Griffith Park’s composting facility, was closed to cars under a pilot program after the hit-and-run collision that killed 77-year-old bicyclist Andrew Jelmert.

— DISPATCH FROM THE NATION’S CAPITOL: Our D.C. colleague Noah Bierman has a fascinating story about how White House officials regularly ask for anonymity, despite the Biden administration’s promise to bring “truth and transparency back” to the White House. Bierman’s process story also looks at how Times reporters handle the requests.

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  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador to India awaits a Senate vote.
  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: Councilman Bob Blumenfield endorsed Bass.
  • And other endorsements: The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Southern California District Council and Councilman Mike Bonin endorsed Faisal Gill in the city attorney race. Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project Los Angeles County Action Fund and the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters endorsed his opponent, Hydee Feldstein Soto. SEIU United Service Workers West, SEIU 721 and the Sierra Club endorsed Erin Darling in the City Council District 11 race. Councilman Kevin de León endorsed Tim McOsker in the CD 15 race. State Sens. Bob Wieckowski, Richard Roth, Bob Archuleta, Dave Cortese, Ben Hueso and Bill Dodd endorsed Bob Hertzberg in the race to represent L.A. County’s 3rd Supervisorial District. The Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley endorsed Hertzberg’s opponent, Lindsey Horvath.

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

  • Pledge of the week: “I’m going to be riding the transit. I want to experience it just like everybody else experiences it.” — Rick Caruso, during his virtual women’s business roundtable on Wednesday.
  • On the docket for next week: Again, not much. Holler if you hear of anything interesting.

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