L.A. on the Record: Waiting patiently (or not) to see who will be L.A.’s next mayor
Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s Ben Oreskes with tons and tons of help from a murderers’ row of colleagues including Jeong Park, Dakota Smith, Dave Zahniser and Jim Rainey.
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As Grove staffers popped balloons that had been dropped and the last of the dancers exited the L.A. County Democratic Party watch party, one of my colleagues remarked how anticlimatic this heavily anticipated election evening had been.
The reason he said this was obvious — if only because we’d all predicted for weeks that the race would be so close that no one would be declared winner within hours of the polls closing. The expansion of mail-in voting means ballots take longer to process, particularly when a massive number of them arrive all at once on election day, then dribble in on the days after.
The result is a Saturday where Rep. Karen Bass holds a small lead, having overtaken Rick Caruso in results released Friday afternoon by the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Still, it’s too early to decisively say who will be the next mayor, and we have two candidates for the job who have treated this moment of suspended animation in completely opposite ways.
The side-by-side demonstrates the profound contrast in their respective styles, the joy they get from retail politicking and their diffidence toward feeding the media beast.
Throughout the campaign, it’s evident Bass has been more comfortable away from the cameras and in more informal settings where she can speak in full sentences and not soundbites.
Since her election night speech Tuesday, she hasn’t been seen by the press and has been relatively silent compared with her opponent. “Bass has been catching up on her personal life and spending time with family. Today she held a luncheon for her staff to express her appreciation,” Bass spokesperson Sarah Leonard Sheahan told The Times on Friday.
Sheahan declined to comment on Friday’s results. When Caruso’s margin shrank Thursday, Sheahan said in an emailed statement that the campaign was confident Bass would win.
Then you had Caruso, who has been acting like election day was still around the corner, showing up at a parade and Langer’s Deli.
On Wednesday outside the iconic Westlake deli, Caruso told reporters he stayed up late on election night for the last vote updates but was excited to be back out on the street. He spoke to locals who crowded in for selfies and honked their horns after they recognized him.
For Caruso, the tight margins were proof that the $100 million he poured into this race paid off, because “if I didn’t spend the money, I would have never gotten my name out there. I would’ve never gotten my message out there.”
Inside, the restaurant’s owner, Norm Langer, walked the businessman to a table. Along the way he couldn’t help but stop and speak to patrons asking what they ordered or how their day was going. Caruso said he had been craving a sandwich from the longtime establishment and added that the pastrami was his favorite. Once seated alongside his aides, he looked down and asked: “What’s good?”
“If he has tuna, we’re all in trouble,” Langer told the table.
The businessman was all smiles when he showed up to the San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade on Friday in Sylmar.
He stood on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, waving to veterans taking part in the parade and posing for photos with fans who approached. The man’s taste for gripping and grinning was evident as he and Hudson, his golden retriever, watched a string of vintage cars, trucks and LAPD cruisers roll past.
“This is exactly what we were expecting,” Caruso said. “We’re gonna go up and down as these ballots get counted. ... We’re going to be on a roller coaster for a while. But I’m very optimistic.”
Caruso’s interview with reporters was interrupted when Mayor Eric Garcetti passed by, wearing his Navy Reserve uniform and sitting atop the back of a classic convertible.
“Look who it is!” Caruso said, walking over to shake the mayor’s hand.
The mayor rode in a rare 1952 Chrysler Imperial Parade Phaeton that is the property of the city of L.A. He and Caruso had earlier exchanged texts and, after shaking hands on the parade route, agreed to soon connect on the phone. Garcetti said he has also been in regular touch with Bass.
“I think they are nervous. I mean, I never had to go through this long wait, with all the mail-in ballots now,” Garcetti said. “I think they’re wondering, whether this is gonna be a few days or a couple of weeks.”
If he wins, Caruso said he believes his victory will be based on “people’s frustration with homelessness and crime. And corruption. It’s what I’ve been talking about. And people just want change. They’re ready for change.”
And if he loses, Caruso said he would “chalk it up to the will of the voters. Voters make a decision and I’ll respect that decision.”
He also said he would not run again if he lost this time: “No, this is it.”
State of play
— POLITICAL POISON: We’re still monitoring the results as they come in for many of this year’s contests. But one thing is clear: 2022 was a bad year for a sitting City Council member to be on the ballot. Four council members have lost their bids for higher office or reelection, and a fifth may lose his seat very soon.
— TRACKING THE CITYWIDES: The results so far in two of L.A.’s citywide races are a bit of a puzzle. City attorney candidate Faisal Gill and controller candidate Kenneth Mejia both promised to provide more accountability at the Los Angeles Police Department. But while Mejia easily vanquished his opponent, Councilmember Paul Koretz, Gill was struggling, trailing lawyer Hydee Feldstein Soto in the first batch of returns. We’ll see if Gill’s fortunes improve as more votes come in.
— DSA ASCENDANT: Spirits were high at the election night party thrown by L.A.’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which had campaigned heavily for City Council candidate Hugo Soto-Martinez. Our friend and colleague Brittny Mejia chronicled the celebration, where she heard jubilant calls of “Are you ready to govern?” DSA-LA helped elect Councilmember Nithya Raman in 2020 and Councilmember-elect Eunisses Hernandez earlier this year.
— VILLANUEVA IN JEOPARDY: Election results released Friday show Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva continuing to trail badly against his opponent, Robert Luna, leaving his bid for reelection in jeopardy. And while many are ballots left to count, voters so far have come out overwhelmingly in favor of Measure A, an amendment to the county charter proposed by supervisors that would give the board the authority to fire an elected sheriff.
And in non-campaign news ...
— HUIZAR’S WIFE TESTIFIES: Richelle Rios, the estranged wife of former Councilmember Jose Huizar, testified in this week’s trial targeting a Chinese real estate company accused of bribing Huizar. Rios, sobbing during her testimony, told the jury about finding large amounts of cash hidden in her Boyle Heights home. The poignant spectacle of three family members, including Rios, testifying against Huizar came at the trial of development company Shen Zhen New World I. It was convicted Thursday of paying Huizar more than $1 million in bribes to win his support for a proposed skyscraper in downtown L.A.
— CORRUPTION COMMITTEE: Speaking of ethics, City Councilmember Paul Krekorian has selected the members of a new committee charged with finding ways of combatting corruption and increasing transparency at City Hall. The panel was created in the wake of the release of a recording of three council members that featured racist and derogatory remarks. Krekorian will serve on the committee alongside Bob Blumenfield, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Heather Hutt and Raman.
We took a look at Kenneth Mejia’s winning campaign for city controller and his big plans for the office. But first he spent some time Wednesday volunteering at one of the city’s troubled animal shelters. Our Dakota Smith has written extensively about the problems plaguing the city’s shelters, and during the campaign Mejia criticized Koretz for not doing enough about the problem while on the City Council.
“Helping there is a great way to relax a bit, even though it’s hectic,” Mejia said.
On Dec. 12, Mejia will become the first Asian American to hold citywide elected office in Los Angeles. Organizers who endorsed Mejia are already full of ideas of departments that he could audit. He’s been hearing from advocates on everything from homelessness to transportation to the environment on where his oversight work should start.
In an interview, Mejia outlined some of his priorities and plan for the office:
- Mejia said he plans to bring at least some of his campaign staffers to the office. Jane Nguyen, his campaign manager, is to be his chief of staff. “We were bringing up issues that were important to Angelenos in real time in a timely manner,” he said. “We want to continue that.”
- Mejia said he has not yet decided the focus of his first audit but rattled off several areas, such as homelessness, policing, housing and the city’s Animal Services department. He plans to make those areas a priority “in the first year or so at least.”
- On the issue of making the controller’s office independent, Mejia supported the idea of giving the office a specific percentage of the general fund, an idea floated by former Controller Laura Chick. (And how it’s done in San Francisco.) And if city officials don’t take him or his audit seriously, Mejia has a suggestion: Look at his supporters. “We have a large following,” he said. “We have people who can pressure.”
- Mejia said he wants the office to have a team in every one of the city’s 40-plus departments. Doing so would keep those departments “accountable all year long,” he said.
- “I want to focus on this job, as the city’s watchdog,” he said, on whether he’s thinking of higher offices such as mayor. “I don’t really know what I want to do in the future. But I know what I want to do now.”
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- Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador of India awaits a Senate vote. His last day as mayor —whoever wins — is Dec. 11.
- Tweet of the week: “Yes, speed boat for Catalina tonight — again, due to the weather conditions.” — Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk on Twitter informing its followers that ballots from the island off the coast couldn’t be picked up by helicopter because of the crazy rains.
- On the docket for next week: The next tranche of ballot updates will come from the registrar-recorder’s office Saturday afternoon.
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