Mayoral candidates exchange barbs while the spending racks up

A woman and man stand behind podiums on a stage with a sign that says "KNX News Mayoral Debate."
Los Angeles mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso debate Thursday at the KNX Newsradio SoundSpace Stage in Los Angeles.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Oct. 7. Ben Oreskes here, coming to you live from Los Angeles, where a mayoral debate between the candidates to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti just wrapped up.

Rep. Karen Bass and businessman Rick Caruso met for a second debate Thursday night, hosted by KNX Radio. I’ve been covering this race closely for the paper along with several colleagues and followed the rap session between the candidates live. Throughout the event, we were writing up quotes of choice barbs and exchanging our own tidbits of analysis via Slack.

Longtime Times reporter Jim Rainey was in the studio with the candidates and happened to sit next to Caruso’s wife, Tina. He let us know the temperature in the room was cool, but the candidates weren’t. He messaged they were “all smiles as they awaited the opening bell” and “greeted each other warmly.”


Then the lights went up, and the attacks were unleashed. The moderators covered a host of topics and, perhaps most interesting for readers not here in Los Angeles, sought to get the candidates to lay out a unifying vision of how they’d run the city. Of course, homelessness dominated much of the conversation, but topics like the size of the LAPD and the cyberattack on the Los Angeles Unified School District came up as well.

So much about this race has been historic, and it was evident in the answers on stage. Bass would be the first female mayor of Los Angeles if elected, and Caruso has shattered spending records as the polls have tightened. The mall operator has poured about $70 million into his campaign since jumping into the race.

Bass has raised gobs of money too — though the amount pales in comparison with what Caruso has spent. Her campaign has raised $6 million through the last filing period; in addition, she’s benefited from millions of dollars in support from outside groups that don’t coordinate with her but run ads publicizing her resume and attacking her opponent. Just this week, Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg donated $1 million to Communities United for Bass for LA Mayor 2022, pushing his total contributions to the group to about $1.85 million. This support is helping her keep pace somewhat in her quest to represent the city.

During the debate, Caruso and Bass were asked about the prospect of hosting a historic event — the Olympics, headed to Los Angeles in 2028 — and whether it would break the budget.

They each said that they believed the event wouldn’t drive the city into debt and that they’d tap their respective connections to Olympics organizers and federal officials to make it run smoothly. Caruso took the opportunity to talk again about his desire to clean up the city. For much of the debate, he blasted Bass as another establishment politician who had failed to stem the city’s crises.

“We’re going to have a big lens on the city of Los Angeles. Do we want it looking like it looks now?” Caruso asked. “Do we want the homeless, the encampments, the crime, the dirt, the graffiti? We’ve got the World Cup coming, and we’re going to put this on the world stage. We need to get it cleaned up. ”


Bass was more aggressive than I’ve ever seen before, calling Caruso a liar with unrealistic plans — to address homelessness or grow the size of the LAPD — that sound good on paper but that she said were unattainable.

“When you lie to people and say that you’re going to do these expensive things that you know good and well you can’t do, that creates the cynicism within voters,” she said to her opponent. “So even though you’ve never been elected to office, unfortunately, you have been displaying some of the worst tendencies of what they say about elected officials.”

If you’re fired up about the local political scene, be sure to sign up for our newsletter on the subject: L.A. on the Record.

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

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Cannabis culture abroad. Many hours from Bangkok, down a winding road dotted with ornate wooden spirit houses, past fields of drooping tapioca plants and across a bridge over the inky green River Khwae, a white-paneled building sits in a clearing. Painted on one side is a graffiti-style mural: Snoop Dogg smoking a joint. If all goes to plan, the rapper from Long Beach won’t be the only connection to California on this patch of wilderness — one of Thailand’s largest legal cannabis farms. The owners are awaiting approval to import seeds from Humboldt Seed Co. to crossbreed Thai and Californian marijuana. Los Angeles Times

Plus: President Biden on Thursday pardoned all individuals convicted on federal charges of simple marijuana possession, a move that the White House estimated would affect more than 6,500 people nationwide. Los Angeles Times


A cash infusion for your pockets. The Golden State will send tax refunds to about 23 million Californians starting today to help them navigate rising costs due to inflation. California will spend $9.5 billion as part of the “Middle Class Tax Refund Estimator” program, with one-time payments ranging from $400 to $1,050 for couples who filed jointly on their 2020 state income tax return and $400 to $700 for those who filed separately. Los Angeles Times

Meet the Cardinal Divas. More than 3 million views and 104,000 likes streamed in on the video of Princess Lang dancing in the front row at the Coliseum with a newly formed majorette team during USC’s football game against Fresno State. A bright smile lighted up her face. “The Cardinal Divas of SC are UP NEXT,” the tweet said. Learn more about how the dance group is shaking up Trojan culture. Los Angeles Times

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These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


What Nancy Pelosi means to San Francisco. “As Pelosi strides confidently toward her 18th reelection, there’s a widespread sense the most powerful and consequential politician San Francisco has ever put forth is nearing the end of a long, storied career. Though she bats away talk of retirement, the prospect of her departure summons mixed feelings in a city where the Democrat has become nearly as much of a fixture as Coit Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge,” Times columnist Mark Z. Barabak writes. Los Angeles Times

Statewide snapshot of homelessness. A new analysis shows that the number of unhoused people in California increased over the last three years by at least 22,500, to 173,800. It’s the first such statewide snapshot of the homelessness crisis since the start of the pandemic. CalMatters

Duking it out in the Valley. While the L.A. mayoral race has been grabbing attention, Bob Hertzberg and Lindsey Horvath have been battling it out for a seat on the county Board of Supervisors, “upping the rhetoric by criticizing each other’s experience levels and differences.” Los Angeles Daily News


Members of a Merced family who were abducted have been found dead. A farmworker reported the discovery of the bodies on Wednesday evening, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said. Deputies arrived at the scene shortly after, followed by detectives, who determined the remains were those of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri; her mother, Jasleen Kaur, 27; her father, Jasdeep Singh, 36; and her uncle, Amandeep Singh, 39, who were taken at gunpoint Monday from the family business. Los Angeles Times

Drama in Sutter Creek. At the last minute, officials canceled a high school football game near Sacramento, leaving parents and players on both teams mystified. In the following days, the district’s superintendent, Torie Gibson, announced that she had placed three staff members on leave and alerted law enforcement of some allegations from a “disturbing” chat thread involving a majority of the football team. She noted that officials are “very limited in what can be shared with the public.” Jessica Garrison reports that many in the community said the chat was titled: “Kill the Blacks.” Los Angeles Times

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Scary stuff. With the Colorado River in crisis and reservoir levels continuing to decline, some California water agencies are planning to significantly reduce the amount they take from the river starting next year, Times staff writer Ian James reports. The goal would be to reduce about 9% of the state’s total water allotment from the river for the next four years, through 2026. Los Angeles Times


Which state gets to lay claim to author Joan Didion, New York or California? A new exhibition about the famed essayist will open Tuesday at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. “I just thought it was an amazing place for her. I think she was a uniquely California person,” the show’s curator said of Didion. The New York Times

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Los Angeles: 81 and cloudy. San Diego: 73 and partly cloudy. San Francisco: 69 and partly cloudy. San Jose: 82 and partly cloudy. Fresno: 95 and sunny. Sacramento: 94 and sunny.


Today’s California memory is from Douglas Jaap:

In 1989 I was vacationing in the Venice Beach area when rollerblading was cool. Wearing my blades, I set off along the beach path toward an area behind Muscle Beach where all the cool hipsters hung out showing off their blading skills. As I approached an incline I increased my speed, and to stop I had to fall over. Embarrassed and dusting myself down, I heard the guy standing next to me remark: “Great entrance, dude.” Only in California, I thought. It was a cool thing to say and makes me smile and think of those hot, sunny days by the beach.

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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