L.A. on the Record: Sen. Bernie Sanders rolls into town as early voting gets going

Amid a crowd, a man and a woman raise joined hands behind a sign that says "Karen Bass for mayor."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) rallies with L.A. mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass on Thursday in Playa Vista.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s an increasingly haggard Ben Oreskes coming to you live — but barely alive — from his home office. Julia Wick and Dakota Smith were a huge help this week.

It was a speech that didn’t mention Rick Caruso by name but in some ways was all about him.

Standing before a crowd of close to 2,000 on Thursday night in Playa Vista, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed Rep. Karen Bass for mayor of Los Angeles while offering his views on the billionaire class and its purported moral bankruptcy.

With few mentions of homelessness or other key issues in the mayor’s race, Sanders’ speech was more a resounding argument for voting Democrat in the midterms than a stem-winder on the merits of Bass.

And yet his 25-minute treatise felt completely relevant to a race in which one candidate is spending so much of his own money trying to get elected.

Sanders’ riffs on corporate profits, who holds all the money and the assaults on reproductive rights landed in part because of Caruso’s wealth and prior Republican registration.

“When we talk about a vibrant democracy, we have to together end a corrupt political system that allows billionaires to buy elections,” Sanders told the cheering crowd. “They’re trying to buy the election here in L.A., and they’re trying to buy it all over this country. That is not democracy.”


Caruso’s wealth has led to a blanketing of the airwaves, as Julia Wick and Jim Rainey explained this week. His advertising onslaught on TV, radio and digital platforms is expected to exceed $53 million, enough to help define themes for the race but not necessarily enough to ensure victory.

Sanders’ comment about buying the election was the closest he came to directly referencing Caruso. Instead, he let his congressional colleague do the attacking. Bass repeated a line about Caruso we heard earlier in the week at an event highlighting her homelessness plan with union members from the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters.

“It’s a con — a developer who has never once built one unit of affordable housing,” she said of Caruso.

For his part, Caruso has been unapologetic about spending his own money — more than $80 million — on this campaign. He says it means he’s not beholden to donors, developers and others who he says represent the “corruption” that has run rampant in City Hall for decades.

Bass, for him, is just another in a line of politicians who represent the status quo. (As if Caruso needed another data point in this line of argument, the bribery trial of an associate of indicted former Councilmember Jose Huizar started Thursday. The man is accused of trying to grease city approval of a project by paying $1.5 million in bribes to Huizar, who was effectively City Hall’s gatekeeper on land-use approvals.)

These attacks come a little over a week before election day, though voting has been underway for some time. Ballots arrived in mailboxes weeks ago, and we’re starting to get a clearer picture of how many people have voted and what it might suggest about where the race is heading.

Our friends at Political Data Intelligence, a for-profit campaign research company, have been tracking returns up and down the state. As of Thursday, 6% of all ballots in Los Angeles had been returned, they said. PDI Vice President Paul Mitchell explained that it’s hard to compare this L.A. election to others because of the change to even-year voting and the fairly recent practice of every registered voter being sent a ballot that they can either mail back or place in a drop box.

“We can look at the ’22 primary, but we should expect that turnout in this election far exceeds those numbers, which I think were around 30% turnout. Maybe in this election, L.A. is 50% or higher,” he wrote in an email.

“So far, looking at the 2022 primary as a comparison, the Democratic returns were tracking the primary vote, but they are now about 20,000 higher than the primary. You also see more Republicans and independents, albeit they are both up by smaller raw numbers.”

As expected, the people who’ve voted so far are most likely to be white and older. Just over 60% of ballots returned came from Democrats, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, either. One key data point is that just 19% of ballots returned have come from Latino voters. It’s still early, but Caruso is going to need that number to jump considerably in order to win.


Sign up to get the latest on how early voting is going from Paul here.

State of play

— Audio aftermath: With several close council races and a city angry over a recently leaked audio recording, Dave Zahniser and Julia write that left-wing political organizers see a potential tipping point ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Their grassroots movement already had tremendous momentum, with many of their candidates placing first in the June primary.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore announced Tuesday that his department was investigating the source of the leaked racist recording that thrust City Hall into a harsh national spotlight. In an interview with the Washington Post, Caruso said he’d met with former L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera in the same room where the tape was supposedly recorded.

“It’s so out of a movie set,” he told the Post. “I don’t know if I’ve been recorded, too.”

— Animal talk: With Los Angeles facing criticism for how it manages its animal shelters, Caruso toured one of the city’s facilities in Mission Hills this week. The shelter is run by a private operator and doesn’t face the overcrowding and staffing problems that the other city shelters do.

Caruso, who showed up with his dog, Hunter, said he couldn’t campaign at a city property, so that’s why he visited the Mission Hills site. He said he would “take a look at privatization” for the city’s other six shelters — a proposal that would certainly anger some of the city’s unions, whose members work at the shelters.

“This isn’t about losing union jobs,” he said, when asked about potential union pushback. He added that he regularly works with unions and it’s about finding “common ground.”

— Policing preview: Although the L.A. mayoral race has been cast as an ideological showdown between Bass, a progressive who’s willing to embrace alternatives to policing, and Caruso, a more conservative law-and-order candidate, their views on public safety are not that different. The Times’ Libor Jany explains why, aside from the size of the department, Bass and Caruso are similar.

Celebrity carousel: Take a look at the famous faces backing Bass and Caruso.

— Plus: Meet the the USC professor tracking Caruso’s yacht.

— Latin or Latino: Columnist Gustavo Arellano spent some time with Caruso in Boyle Heights this week and reports back that “his appeal to Latinos is real. I knew it from the moment he entered the race in February, and he’s proved it ever since.”

— County fight: The newly configured 3rd Supervisorial District is about 43% white, 37% Latino, 12% Asian and 4% Black. It covers 431 square miles and stretches from the Westside through the San Fernando Valley and is home to one of the closest and most contested races.

And in non-campaign news ...

— KDL context: Kevin De León began his political career in the 1990s as a proponent of immigrants’ rights after voters passed Proposition 187, which would have barred public services for undocumented immigrants,” writes CalMatters columnist Dan Walters. “Somewhere along the line, however, he morphed into careerist self-absorption.”

— Housing horriblé: New York Times columnist Ezra Klein takes a deep look at why it’s so hard to build housing for homeless people here in Los Angeles. “The politics of the affordable housing crisis are terrible,” he writes. “The politics of what you’d need to do to solve it are even worse.”

People hold up posters. One says "You are a joke," with a photo of a man with devil's horns drawn in.
Protesters march from Kevin de León’s field office to his Eagle Rock home on Monday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Apology tour

Just over two weeks after the release of the leaked audio recording of Herrera, De León and fellow Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Nury Martinez, De León and Cedillo received the strongest rebuke possible from their colleagues: censure.

For Cedillo, who is out of a job in December, the stakes are relatively low.

He looks as though he will ride out the last month or so of his tenure — collecting a check and staying out of sight. De León’s apology tour across the local media landscape continued, though — as he sought to drum up support while fighting to keep his job.

Just before Tuesday’s council meeting began, De León joined Tavis Smiley on KBLA-AM (1580) — his first stop on a Black radio station since the leak. Smiley pointed out how long it had taken for him to show up and speak directly to the community that had been most directly targeted on that tape.

During that interview, Smiley pressed De León on whether his constituents were being well-served by a council member who has refused to resign but also has not shown up for meetings.

“I’m trying to allow some time to heal,” De León said. “I’m trying to allow some time to not be part of the chaos at this moment.”

In an interview with The Times, Smiley said he got De León on his show by texting him.

“I simply said to him, ‘How long are you going to avoid addressing Black Los Angeles?’” Smiley recalled. At first De León wanted to do the interview by phone, but Smiley said no. He had to be in the studio, and it had to be a full hour, uninterrupted.

The result was an interview that “exposed” him, Smiley said. The radio host said listeners and friends told him the interview offered an unvarnished take on someone who had been apologizing but hadn’t fully reckoned with the damage he’d caused.

De León told Smiley he gave interviews to Univision and KABC-TV Channel 7, among other outlets, before talking with an outlet whose audience is predominantly Black because he was hurt and embarrassed.

“Nobody bought his response,” Smiley said.

Smiley then offered his take about the sum and substance of the racist recording based on what he heard from listeners and other guests on his show.

“What hit me was that, on the empathy front, the persons in that room — all four of them — power had been corrupting them for years,” he said. “What we heard on that tape was expressions of a deficit of empathy born of an access to power.”

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  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador to India awaits a Senate vote. McGuireWoods Consulting recently reported receiving another $30,000 in income for lobbying the Senate, House of Representatives and the White House for Garcetti’s India nomination. Garcetti’s parents, Gil and Sukey, hired the firm to help push Eric’s nomination through the Senate — a process that has been held up because of accusations the mayor failed to respond to allegations of sexual harassment in his office. Meanwhile, the new issue of L.A. Magazine includes a lengthy Q&A with the mayor, in which he reveals that he was sexually harassed while he was in high school.
  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: The Chicano Latino Immigrant Democratic Club of Los Angeles County and the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region endorsed Bass. A slew of celebrities have endorsed Bass in recent weeks including musician Stevie Wonder who cut a radio ad for the candidate this week.
  • And other city endorsements: The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 13 endorsed Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell in CD 13. L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin endorsed Tim McOsker for CD 15. Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) endorsed Faisal Gill for city attorney.

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

  • Dig of the week: “We are looking at more droughts, more floods, more extreme weather disturbances, and in terms of disturbances, we’re not gonna allow a handful of people to disrupt us,” Sanders said Thursday in Playa Vista; he was referring to two people dressed in hazmat suits who opposed U.S. support of Ukraine and heckled him.
  • On the docket for next week: Tuesday is one week until election day.

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