Bass, Caruso sling mud over USC scholarship, alleged hacks and homelessness fixes

A woman in a pant suit speaks into a microphone. Behind her people hold signs reading "Karen Bass for Mayor."
Rep. Karen Bass speaks to supporters at Elysian Park in Los Angeles on May 27.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. Dakota Smith, Julia Wick and Ben Oreskes are here to pull you out of the heat and into cooler times, with help from David Zahniser.

Are you familiar with the omnipresent internet meme that shows two people in Spider-Man costumes, each pointing at the other?

It paints a pretty good picture of the week that was in L.A. politics, as Rep. Karen Bass and real estate developer Rick Caruso both got deep into the mud, accusing the other of USC-related malfeasance.

If there’s one thing Caruso and Bass agreed on last week, it was that their opponent wasn’t being forthright about their dealings with USC, which has racked up multiple scandals in recent years.

Bass is facing fresh questions about a $95,000 scholarship that USC granted her in 2011, following new reporting from our colleague Matt Hamilton. Caruso quickly pounced on the opportunity to attack his opponent, and Bass responded with equal fire.

Hamilton reported this week that federal prosecutors had declared that Bass’ scholarship and her dealings with USC were “critical” to their investigation into alleged corruption within the university’s social work program.

Bass isn’t a target or subject of the probe into an alleged quid pro quo involving politician Mark Ridley-Thomas and a scholarship awarded to his son in exchange for lucrative county contracts.


After The Times’ story broke Thursday, Bass’ campaign pivoted within the hour by posting a video attacking Caruso, a USC board member, for failing to “keep women safe” at USC, in reference to the George Tyndall sexual abuse case.

Meanwhile, Caruso and his allies — who spent part of last week batting away conflict-of-interest accusations from the Bass campaign — appeared to revel in the revelation that Bass’ scholarship deal was pulling her into the federal corruption case.

“Congratulations,” a Caruso supporter told a Caruso campaign staffer at an event on Melrose Avenue shortly after The Times published its story.

Caruso “was very giddy about it this afternoon,” the supporter told the staffer, speaking about the story and seemingly unaware that a Times reporter was standing next to them.

Caruso held his own news conference Thursday to castigate Bass and demand that her campaign release her communications with former Dean Marilyn Flynn, the indicted administrator who provided Bass the scholarship.

The Times also asked Bass to release those communications, as well as letters that Bass and her office wrote in support of USC initiatives.

“In regards to your request for all emails and documents, we do not have access to all Congressional records, I refer you to the Congressional Records Office,” said Bass communications director Sarah Leonard Sheahan.

Bass herself avoided deeper questions. At a news conference that was billed as a way to talk about the article and the latest countywide homeless numbers, she took just two prescreened questions from reporters.

She told the media that the corruption case “has nothing to do with me.”



WHAT THE HACK? Caruso’s Thursday news conference took a bizarre twist when he suggested that his campaign had been hacked, “most likely from the Bass campaign,” without providing any backing for the accusation.

The hefty allegation came after Caruso was asked about an anonymous email from someone claiming to be “a whistleblower with the Caruso campaign” that was sent to a number of reporters who RSVP’d to his news conference.

Caruso said it was “disturbing, at best, that somebody was able to get into our email system,” though he later conceded that the campaign was also looking into the possibility that a campaign staffer with access to the RSVP list had sent it.

Leonard Sheahan denied the accusation, calling it “just another lie from Rick Caruso.”

“AGE OF BLACK WOMEN”: The 19th looks at Bass’ mayoral run. “Bass is campaigning for mayor during a period when Black women have won historic mayoral races nationwide. Last year, Black women served as mayors of eight of America’s 100 most populous cities, a record.”

— BASS IN THE BIG EASY: Bass was out of town for much of the week, including Wednesday night for a fundraiser at the New Orleans home of former Rep. Cedric Richmond. On the guest list were several prominent Louisiana politicians, including former Rep. Cleo Fields, Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and a “couple of other officials from the city of New Orleans,” according to New Orleans City Councilmember Eugene J. Green.

Two men and two women pose together for a photo, smiling. The men are in suits, the women in pant suits.
From left: New Orleans City Councilmember Eugene J. Green; U.S. Rep Karen Bass; Green’s chief of staff, Sandra G. Thomas; and New Orleans City Councilmember Joseph I. Giarrusso III at the Wednesday reception.
(Eugene J. Green)

Green presented Bass with a ceremonial proclamation (it seems those certificates are also a mainstay at New Orleans City Hall!) honoring her at the event, saying it was “in recognition of her as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and also the community work that she’s done.”

CONTROL TIME: Councilmember Paul Koretz, running for city controller, picked up the endorsement of former City Controller Laura Chick, meaning Koretz is now backed by every person to hold that office dating to 1985.

HEATING UP: Now until election day “will be a slugfest,” Jon Regardie writes in Los Angeles Magazine: “Although public polls give Bass a healthy lead, voters who were queried gave their answers during a period when Caruso kept an extremely low profile. That will change, and as the candidates shift into overdrive, voters will begin to pay attention.”

BASES: Westside Today checks in with the Council District 11 race between Traci Park and Erin Darling, where Park “is piling up the private sector, building and trades support while Darling is more focused on public sector labor groups.”

— ANOTHER ELECTION? SO SOON? It seems implausible, maybe even awful, to contemplate. But it’s true: The campaign fundraising period has opened for the city’s 2024 election, when seven of the council’s 15 seats will be up for grabs. State Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian has already filed to run for the seat held by Councilmember Paul Krekorian, his former boss, who must step down in 2024 due to term limits. Meanwhile, Councilmember John Lee has begun fundraising for his own reelection bid in the northwest Valley, according to the Ethics Commission website.

And in non-campaign news ...

STREET BEAT: There’s a small but growing L.A. County initiative in street-based psychiatric treatment that is beginning to make inroads into the population of homeless people who wander L.A.’s streets with untreated mental illness.

BACK TO THE COUNTY BOARD ROOM: After a very long COVID-19 closure, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced Friday that the Board Hearing Room at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration would reopen to the public Sept. 27. Members of the public will still be able to make comments by telephone when in-person meetings resume.


There was mixed reaction from politicians and advocates to news that, according to the Los Angeles homeless count released this week, the county had seen a 4% increase in homeless people since 2020. (By contrast, the region’s homeless population had exploded in size in previous years, growing by 25% between 2018 and 2020.) Some said they were cautiously optimistic about the progress, while others were disappointed that there wasn’t more, given the billions of dollars that have been invested in tackling the crisis. Many worry about the challenges ahead.

In the city of L.A., homelessness went up 1.7%, and both mayoral candidates weighed in about the numbers amid their food fight on unrelated matters. Caruso made passing mention of it at a news conference lambasting Bass’ free scholarship and later accused the congresswoman of being representative of past failed policies.

“In a city as great as L.A., there is no excuse why our leaders have failed to address our homelessness crisis,” Caruso said. “These are 69,000 of our neighbors who need our help to get off the streets and receive the care they deserve.”

Bass held a virtual presser with several people who are experts in various facets of the crisis and used the news as a cudgel — telling reporters that it’s what “we really should be talking about,” rather than the story about her free degree. She too went after Caruso, saying addressing homelessness “is not building a shopping mall.”

“I have the lived experiences and the endorsements of key decision-makers to marshal the resources we need from the federal, state and county government,” she said.

This week, The Times went deep on the plans each candidate had made public, pressing them to put some substance behind big promises they made in the primary. Caruso is firmly focused on the construction of new interim housing, laying out an enormously expensive plan to build enough temporary housing units — in the form of tiny houses placed on 300 underutilized government parcels — to temporarily shelter 15,000 people. Another 15,000 people would find temporary shelter in “sleeping pods” placed in existing structures, such as warehouses and empty buildings.

Bass wants to wring as much as possible out of the current system in order to expand both interim and permanent housing, though at a far smaller scale than Caruso envisions. She would build new shelter beds to accommodate about 1,000 people. Bass’ plan also relies on the expanded use of housing vouchers, the leasing and purchase of motels and hotels, and other approaches.

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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: AFSCME Local 3634 backed Bass, as did United Nurses Assns. of California/Union of Healthcare Professionals and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 47.
  • And other endorsements: ILWU Local 56 Ship Scalers Union backed Darling in CD 11. Rep. Adam Schiff endorsed Katy Young Yaroslavsky in CD 5. Central City Assn. PAC endorsed Hydee Feldstein Soto for L.A. city attorney. The Miracle Mile Democratic Club and the Feel the Bern San Fernando Valley Democratic Club endorsed her opponent, Faisal Gill. The California Statewide Law Enforcement Assn. and Councilmember Kevin de León backed Bob Hertzberg in the race to represent L.A. County’s 3rd Supervisorial District.

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

  • Quip of the week: “You do not, as a city council person in the United States, need to release a formal statement on the death of the Queen.” — Yashar Ali, in a Thursday tweet.
  • On the docket for next week: The Mar Vista Community Council will host CD 11 candidates Park and Darling for a Zoom debate Saturday.

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