L.A. on the Record: Caruso coming to a neighborhood near you

A woman hugs a man.
Rick Caruso visited the Downtown Women’s Center for a tour and roundtable discussion Tuesday. Afterward, he purchased handmade items from LaVena Lewis, who hugged Caruso.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s Ben Oreskes, David Zahniser and Julia Wick here, all doing our best to beat the heat.

Real estate developer and mayoral candidate Rick Caruso is down in the polls. Way down.

Pointing to his long absence from the airwaves, some naysayers suggest the bottom-line-conscious businessman might be cutting his very expensive losses and “quiet quitting” (read: doing the bare minimum) on his way to the Nov. 8 finish line.

But Caruso’s recent packed schedule paints a very different picture: He’s been barnstorming the city with town halls, meet-and-greets and tours.

A spokesperson says ads will likely start airing again soon. But in the interim, it’s been instructive to see how his campaign has turned to a grip-and-grin style of politicking. Taking a page from primary candidate Mike Feuer’s book, Caruso recently said he planned to visit every neighborhood in the city, with 140 planned community meetings. (And like Feuer, Caruso now qualifies as an underdog in the race, albeit an incredibly well-resourced one.)


That’s included a trip Tuesday to the Downtown Women’s Center on skid row, where he toured the facility and heard about specific challenges of constructing affordable housing and what the facility needed to help more people.

“There’s solutions. Why haven’t we embraced this more?” he asked, attacking his opponent, Rep. Karen Bass, and other elected officials for “allow[ing] people to live and die on the street.”

Caruso appears to get real pleasure meeting Angelenos. He peppered the center’s employees with questions about what programs worked and what they needed more of from government. Caruso appeared similarly at ease on Sunday during a nearly 80-minute question-and-answer session in a low-slung, formerly industrial building a few blocks east of the 110 Freeway in South Los Angeles.

Caruso did his fair share of retail politicking during the primary. But those events largely took place in controlled environments, with little advance notice and carefully selected participants. Last week, we saw Caruso — who is normally chauffeured around in a sleek black SUV — riding the L.A. Metro and chatting with commuters.

Sunday’s South L.A. town hall was announced several days ahead of time, and staffers were inviting in additional audience members off the street shortly before the candidate arrived.

“I hear this all around the city, especially for the Black communities and the brown communities: ‘We’re not heard. We’re not seen,’” Caruso said, standing with a hand-held mic under a handful of framed motivational slogans. “I promise you, when I’m there, I will see you and I will hear you and we will win together.”


The generally warm reception at the town hall — hosted by a local nonprofit that the developer’s family foundation has contributed to — also had a surprise applause line.

“People are criticizing me for financing my own campaign. You know what, I don’t owe anybody anything,” the billionaire developer said, sparking a round of hearty clapping.

Critics of the conflicts of interest Caruso could face as mayor might argue otherwise. But it was still fascinating to see how the line played in the room.

State of play

CARUSO’S BLIND TRUST: Caruso stepped down as CEO of his company Thursday, and his opponent quickly volleyed an attack. The Bass campaign held a news conference that morning where the former chief ethics lawyers to Presidents Obama and George W. Bush castigated Caruso’s plan to put his business in a blind trust if elected. The pair also published an op-ed in Slate sharply critiquing the conflicts Caruso could face if elected as mayor.

A Caruso spokesperson countered that the developer would appoint an ethics czar to “ensure transparency and sunlight in all his operations as mayor” if elected.

THE ROAD AHEAD: Politico takes a look at whether Caruso can eat into Bass’ lead. Several experts interviewed said it would be an uphill battle but was certainly possible.

MORE ATMOSPHERICS: Delivering a message that appeals to more progressive or liberal Angelenos “will be more challenging for Caruso to deliver than the old-school lock-’em-up missives that elected Dick Riordan almost 30 years ago,” Dan Schnur writes.

DEBATE DRAMA: USC pulled out of hosting a mayoral debate two days after a public speaker at an L.A. City Council meeting climbed over a bench to confront council President Nury Martinez. The university cited the cost of security, a shortage of personnel and the “escalating tension in modern politics especially as the November election approaches.”

MEME OF THE WEEK: You know that meme that’s been everywhere the last few weeks, with a young woman screaming into a young man’s ear as he looks on, blank-faced? Councilmember Nithya Raman seized on the image Thursday to chide Gov. Gavin Newsom’s controversial decision to veto an equally controversial bill that would have allowed supervised injection site pilot programs in three California cities.

In a tweet from her personal Twitter account, Raman paired the meme with her own photo of herself and a zoned-out-looking Newsom. The accompanying text read (and we’ll spare you the all-caps): “You see Gavin safe injection sites actually *prevent* overdoses and decrease risk and strain on healthcare workers and make our communities safer and healthier as a result and-”.

A woman in white blouse and pants and white hat speaks into a microphone as people standing behind her applaud.
Jane Fonda, standing next to City Council candidate Erin Darling, announced the slate of candidates backed by the Jane Fonda Climate PAC at Grand Park on Thursday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Jane Fonda’s PAC

A scorching, shade-less downtown sidewalk on one of the hottest days of the year was a logical place for actor and activist Jane Fonda to announce the L.A. candidates endorsed by her climate-focused political action committee.

The Jane Fonda Climate PAC is backing six people in the city election: Karen Bass for mayor, Faisal Gill for city attorney, Kenneth Mejia for city controller and three City Council candidates — Erin Darling, Hugo Soto-Martinez and Danielle Sandoval.

“We need to move the levers of power away from corporations and toward people like these,” Fonda said, her face partially masked by a big hat.

Bass did not attend. But Gill promised to use the city attorney’s power to fight polluters in court. Mejia vowed to make sure the city moved to 100% renewable energy. Sandoval, running to replace Councilman Joe Buscaino, was especially passionate, saying she was fighting for “the removal of the oil refineries.” (Asked for details afterward, she said she misspoke — and only wants regulation, not removal.)

Rivals of those candidates responded by touting their own credentials. A spokeswoman for Hydee Feldstein Soto, running for city attorney, said she had the backing of L.A.’s League of Conservation Voters. Council candidate Tim McOsker, running against Sandoval, said he was supported by that group and by the local chapter of the Sierra Club. Councilman Paul Koretz, running against Mejia, said he too was backed by both groups.

Fonda staged her event just one day before dropping a different kind of bombshell, announcing she has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and begun chemotherapy treatments. “Cancer is a teacher and I’m paying attention to the lessons it holds for me,” she wrote on Instagram.

Mishigas around the horseshoe

City Hall has been gripped for the last week by the fight over Heather Hutt, the political aide approved Friday as the interim replacement for Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

One reason for the drama? The back-and-forth over the seat is viewed by some as a proxy fight for the council presidency.

Council President Nury Martinez nominated Hutt last week after her previous pick, former Councilman Herb Wesson, was sidelined by two judges — a stinging setback. On Tuesday, five council members effectively told Martinez to slow things down, demanding a committee hearing and more public input on Hutt.

City Hall insiders quickly recognized that those five votes, under the right circumstances, could become the building blocks of a movement to oust Martinez.

Eight votes are needed to choose a president, and Martinez is already on track to lose allies in the next legislative session.

Buscaino is set to step down after two terms. Councilman Gil Cedillo lost his reelection to community activist Eunisses Hernandez. And Councilman Mitch O’Farrell is on the ropes politically, after trailing his opponent in the June 7 primary. All three have been Team Martinez on the big issues.

Councilman Bob Blumenfield, one of the five who asked for a delay, declined to assess Martinez’s handling of the Ridley-Thomas seat when contacted by The Times. In an interview, he disputed the notion that the debate over Hutt was connected to the council presidency, saying the issue is “not a referendum” on Martinez.

“We all have different ways of doing things,” Blumenfield said Wednesday. “I had a choice yesterday of moving forward with a vote that I wasn’t quite comfortable with or delaying it. I obviously voted to delay it.”

Martinez told The Times that her colleagues — including Councilmen Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson — can seek to replace her “any Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday,” the days when the council meets.

“I show up and I take positions, and I make make my voice heard, whether people agree with me or not,” she said in an interview. “So if these men want to get together and put votes to take me out, they should do that — period, end of story.”

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Quick hits

  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti — though he’s been traveling internationally all week, so Nury Martinez has technically been acting mayor. Garcetti’s confirmation as ambassador to India awaits a Senate vote, but he did get to see the inside of a U.S. ambassador’s residence when he joined ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel for a meal in Tokyo this week.
  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta endorsed Bass, as did the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, state Sen. Henry Stern, the local branch of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance and the Black Women for Wellness Action Project.
  • And other endorsements: Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo and Compton Mayor Emma Sharif endorsed Tim McOsker in the CD 15 race, as did Buscaino, who currently represents the district. Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta and CIR/SEIU endorsed Lindsey Horvath in the race to represent L.A. County’s 3rd Supervisorial District. State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and United Auto Workers Western States endorsed her opponent, Bob Hertzberg.

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

  • Dig of the week:Rick Caruso is Humpty Dumpty, and there’s not a political consultant in the country that can put him back together again,” said Michael Trujillo, Buscaino’s former mayoral campaign consultant.
  • On the docket for next week: Short week. Not much.

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