Stakes are high as 5 leading candidates for L.A. mayor finally meet


Will a debate with Rick Caruso look markedly different from what we’ve seen before?

That will be the question Tuesday night as the five leading Los Angeles mayoral candidates take the stage at USC’s Bovard Auditorium, with Caruso for the first time joining Rep. Karen Bass, City Atty. Mike Feuer and Councilmen Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino.

The debate — sponsored by The Times, USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future and Fox 11 Los Angeles — will be moderated by Times columnist Erika D. Smith and Fox 11 anchor Elex Michaelson.

This will be the second televised debate ahead of the June 7 primary, and political watchers are eager to see how Caruso’s presence shifts the dynamics. The four other candidates have been cordial to one another during public appearances. At the first televised debate last month, the fiercest hits came from half a dozen protesters who repeatedly disrupted the event at Loyola Marymount University. But Feuer and Buscaino both took shots at Caruso in absentia.

Bass, a six-term congresswoman who founded the South L.A. nonprofit Community Coalition, emerged as an early front-runner. A poll conducted in early February by the UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies, co-sponsored by The Times, showed Bass with a wide lead, with 32% of likely voters saying they’d support her if the primary were held then. De León and Caruso (who had yet to officially enter the race when the poll was conducted) both had 8% support with likely voters, while Feuer and Buscaino both polled at 4%. The largest share of voters at the time were undecided.


Since then, Caruso has opened a fire hose of political spending that probably dwarfs the output of all other candidates combined. His “Caruso can” message has dominated local television and social media ads for weeks. Without recent official polling, it’s difficult to quantify how much that message has resonated with voters, but the ubiquitous advertising has almost certainly reshaped the early landscape of the race.

The question for the three other candidates is whether they’ll spend their time onstage making a case for themselves or going after the front-runners, said political consultant Bill Carrick.

“That’s a tough problem, because if you go on the attack, you run the risk of looking nasty,” said Carrick, who was advising Jessica Lall before she dropped out of the race. That could be an issue, particularly for lesser-known candidates who are essentially introducing themselves to voters, Carrick said.

Feuer and Buscaino have already shown a propensity for going after Caruso. Bass is unlikely to do so; whether De León will engage in attacks remains to be seen. It’s possible that other candidates may take shots at Bass, though the telegenic billionaire will likely be the preferred punching bag.

Viewers can expect to hear plenty about policing and homelessness, the issues that have dominated the race thus far.

Bass, one of the high-profile progressives in the race, has taken flak from leftist organizers for some of her more moderate stances, including a public safety plan that would return the Los Angeles Police Department to its authorized strength of 9,700 officers.

For some candidates, thousands of new tiny homes, rented hotel rooms and other forms of short-term shelter are the place to start solving homelessness.

Dec. 5, 2021

“All of the candidates are really playing to this ‘silent majority’ that may not be as vocal as the activists who came out at that first debate at Loyola Marymount,” Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College, said Monday. “I’m curious to see if that continues tomorrow or if we see some pivots,” added Sadhwani, who has researched voting behavior, with an emphasis on the representation of racial, ethnic and immigrant communities.

Bass’ plan, which is aimed at keeping LAPD spending roughly the same as it is now, calls for far fewer officers than proposals put forth by Caruso and Buscaino.

Caruso, who has served as president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, was endorsed last month by the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers. The move was seen as a setback for Buscaino, a former LAPD officer who had sought to position himself as the law enforcement candidate. Caruso has also been endorsed in recent weeks by former LAPD Chiefs Charlie Beck and William Bratton.

With the primary just 77 days away, the quintet of leading candidates will be fighting onstage to differentiate themselves.

“Overwhelmingly, these are candidates who have similar visions for the future of Los Angeles and are supporting fairly similar policies,” Sadhwani said. “I’m very curious to see whether or not the gloves come off as Caruso takes the stage.”


The second televised and live-streamed debate among L.A. mayoral candidates is on March 22. Here’s how to tune in.

March 21, 2022