Candidates for L.A. mayor and L.A. County sheriff face off tonight

Side-by-side photos of two men in law enforcement uniforms.
Retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, left, will debate Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Sept. 21. I’m Jeong Park, a reporter covering Asian American communities.

Believe it or not, we are less than three weeks out from ballots being mailed out to California voters for the November election.

To help you make informed decisions, The Times along with other media partners and civic groups tonight are hosting back-to-back debates with the candidates in the races for L.A. mayor and L.A. County sheriff.

In the mayoral debate, Rep. Karen Bass will face developer Rick Caruso. The other debate pits sheriff’s candidate Robert Luna, a retired Long Beach Police chief, against incumbent Alex Villanueva.

This is the first live televised general election debate in either race. The matchups come at a crucial time for the candidates, as the campaign season kicks into high gear.


Already, both races have been rocked by recent developments.

In the mayor’s race, Caruso has pointed to the questions Bass has faced around the nearly $100,000 scholarship she received from USC for a master’s degree; the award was cited in the corruption case involving suspended L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. Bass has pointed to Caruso’s time on the USC Board of Trustees when lawsuits rolled in relating to decades of alleged sexual abuse by campus gynecologist George Tyndall.

Recently, in the sheriff’s race, a search warrant executed on the house of county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl stirred things up. Kuehl has long clashed with Villanueva, and the warrant drew the ire of Luna and others.

A recent poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, co-sponsored by The Times, shows Bass leading Caruso by 12% and Luna having a small lead over Villanueva. Still, the poll showed a high number of undecided voters in both races.

“This debate does hold the potential to set the narrative for the next few weeks,” said Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College.

Sadhwani will be watching how Bass and Caruso engage with each other in their first one-on-one match. During the primary, other candidates were taking “quick shots” at Caruso, hoping they could finish second along with Bass, which let her take a bit of a step back from going after Caruso. But Sadhwani said Bass wouldn’t have that luxury anymore.

Ahead of the debate, I spoke with Times columnist Erika D. Smith, who will be co-moderating the debate along with Fox 11 News anchor Elex Michaelson. Univision and KPCC anchors and correspondents will also ask questions during the debate, which is also sponsored by the Skirball Cultural Center, the Los Angeles Urban League and Loyola Marymount University.


Here’s my chat with Smith, edited for length and clarity:

With the mayoral debate, how will this be different from some of those we saw in the primary, where we had four or five candidates on the stage at the same time?

Smith: It will really show who both of these candidates are. The real dynamics of both of these candidates come down to, do we want somebody who is kind of new to the game of politics, who’s coming with more of an outsider’s point of view on fixing some of these problems? Or do we want somebody who’s been in government for a long time and feels that she has the ability to leverage all that experience and that knowledge to fix the problems that we all see? With these two people on stage kind of showing these stark contrasts, we’ll start to really see what each candidate has to offer.

As for the sheriff debate, this is the first time a lot of the folks will see Luna, who’s challenging Villanueva. What do you expect there?

Smith: The public, for better or worse, has an opinion of the current sheriff. For Luna, most voters don’t know anything about him probably other than that he lives in Long Beach where he was a police chief. So Villanueva and Luna have these very different roles coming into this debate. It will be really interesting to see how they both will tackle it.

How much do you think recent developments including questions on Bass’ USC scholarship and the Kuehl search warrant will be a factor?

Smith: We are going to talk a lot about how the sheriff relates with other elected officials, such as the Board of Supervisors who control his budget. I personally would be shocked if Luna doesn’t bring up the search warrant really early. The situation is in a lot of ways ongoing. There’s a hearing on Thursday about this. So we’re dropping this debate right in the middle of all that happening.

Regarding the mayor’s race, Caruso has something to prove, and I would expect him to go after the congresswoman a bit on several issues. Bass’ entire candidacy is built on working with other parties and getting along to get things done. So it will be interesting to see how she responds to more direct attacks that are coming through a third party, like an article in the L.A. Times or an interview on Fox 11.

What kind of discussion can we look forward to regarding issues such as public safety and homelessness?

Smith: Public safety is not just arresting people, but it’s also how safe people feel about what’s happening on their streets. It’s about accountability and transparency in law enforcement, which I think will come up probably more in the sheriff’s debate. But there’s just general affordability and the quality of life in the city. Most people would agree, and I think the candidates would agree, that L.A. in a lot of ways is at a crossroads. There’s a push to really get leaders who want to lead us forward. There’s going to be competing visions on stage about what that means. Most of our questions will go to that and trying to tease out that idea of, what is their vision? Why are they the best candidate suited to bring it about?

For more analysis, sign up for the L.A. on the Record newsletter, a weekly wrap-up by our colleagues about what’s happening in local elections.

Here’s how you can watch the two-hour debate at the Skirball Cultural Center, which starts at 6 p.m. with the candidates for sheriff, followed by the mayoral candidates at 7 p.m.:

You can, of course, follow along live at the L.A. Times website and (in Spanish) where the debate will be streamed. Times reporters will have live updates and analysis from the debate, as well as wrap-ups and takeaways.

If you prefer to watch it on television, Fox 11 will carry the debate live. If you are on the move, you can tune in to KPCC 89.3 FM.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


California’s attorney general takes over the Kuehl investigation. Rob Bonta on Tuesday said in a letter to sheriff’s officials that sidelining the Sheriff’s Department was in the “public interest.” Bonta’s unusual decision to strip the Sheriff’s Department of control of its own investigation comes amid mounting questions about the department’s handling of the probe and allegations from L.A. county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and others that Sheriff Alex Villanueva is using it to attack political enemies. Los Angeles Times

Return of the Golden Globes on NBC. The ceremony will be televised on Jan. 10 as part of a one-year agreement. Studios had cut ties with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. after a Los Angeles Times investigation raised questions about the group’s ethical and financial lapses. The association implemented various reforms, but it remains to be seen whether Hollywood stars will once again embrace the show. Los Angeles Times

Mourning the loss of a Dodger legend. Maury Wills, a Dodgers shortstop who led the National League in stolen bases six times — including 104 in 1962, breaking Ty Cobbs’ 47-year-old record — died Tuesday. He was 89. Los Angeles Times

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Santa Monica has had enough of a needle exchange program at its park. In an open letter sent to county officials last week, Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich called for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health program to be relocated from public spaces in the city to, preferably, an indoor site. Los Angeles Times

Prop. 27 to scale back its television ad buys. Those ads, which have been ubiquitous throughout California, sought to draw support for legalizing online sports gaming. Supporters have spent $169 million, but according to a recent poll the measure has the support of only 34% of likely voters. San Francisco Chronicle

Fresno City Council president faces an extortion charge. Nelson Esparza has been charged with one felony count of attempted extortion and one count of attempting to violate the city charter. The complaint alleges Esparza threatened the employment of a former Fresno city attorney, who has since left his post. Fresno Bee

What the heck is going on in Mission Viejo? An Orange County city could lose half its council members after a court ruling that invalidated three council members’ terms. OC Register


Tens of thousands return home after the Mosquito fire. The fire had burned 76,290 acres in the foothills northeast of Sacramento as of Tuesday morning. Sacramento Bee

San Francisco wanted to cut chronic homelessness in half in five years. Instead, the number of chronically homeless people increased between 2017 and 2022. There was a reduction over the past three years in overall homelessness as well as an explosion in the city’s budget to tackle the crisis, but moving the needle on chronic homelessness remains elusive. San Francisco Chronicle

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Adults should get routine anxiety screening. That’s what an influential health guidelines group proposed Tuesday, based on a review that began before the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles Times

For God’s sake, do not cook your chicken in NyQuil. That’s all. Los Angeles Times


A crowd of people dance outdoors on a concrete patio amid palm trees.
Dancing to salsa and bachata amid the palm trees at Venice Pier? That’s a pretty Angeleno thing to do.
(Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times)

Who is an Angeleno? As someone who was born elsewhere but grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles (shout out to Diamond Bar!), I’ve long wrestled with whether to call myself an Angeleno. But Times columnist Patt Morrison says: It’s not about where you come from but about what you embrace and experience. Los Angeles Times

More neon signs to light up San Francisco’s Tenderloin. The district is home to around a third of the neon in the city. New legislation will allow more handmade neon signs to pop up, or be restored, in the Tenderloin. San Francisco Standard

Patrick’s Point to get a new name. The landmark in Humboldt County was named after Patrick Beegan, who killed numerous Indigenous people. Now the county Board of Supervisors has signaled unanimous support for changing the name of the headland in Sue-meg State Park, formerly Patrick’s Point State Park, from Patrick’s Point to Sue-meg Point. Eureka Times-Standard

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Los Angeles: partly cloudy, 79. San Diego: sunny, 77. San Francisco: cloudy early, mostly sunny in the afternoon, 69. San Jose: partly cloudy, 74. Fresno: sunny, 81. Sacramento: showers early, partly cloudy in the afternoon, 78.


Today’s California memory comes from Suzy Parker:

In 1971, when I was 18, I flew from Philadelphia to Denver and then took multiple Greyhound buses to Los Angeles. I went to Disneyland and then hitchhiked up Highway 1. It took almost 20 hours to get to a friend’s Boulder Creek commune. Two days later, I hitchhiked to San Francisco International Airport. I got on a nonstop Pan Am flight to Philadelphia. My mother met me at the airport, slapped me across the face, and told me I was not ever to go to California again. It took another 12 years for me to return, and I’ve been here ever since.

— Suzy Parker

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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