Joe Buscaino drops out of L.A. mayor’s race, endorses Rick Caruso
Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino dropped out of the mayor’s race on Thursday and threw his support behind billionaire developer Rick Caruso.
Buscaino, a former L.A. police officer and one of the contest’s earliest entrants, saw the message he planned to run on — homelessness and public safety — seized by Caruso after he entered the race.
Both had been running on a platform of cleaning up the city’s streets with an intense focus on quickly expanding shelter for homeless people and aggressively clearing encampments. Both also advocated hiring 1,500 new police officers and supporting the recall of Dist. Atty. George Gascón.
Standing beside Caruso at the Grove, the luxury mall owned by Caruso, Buscaino told his supporters Thursday afternoon that exiting the race was one of the hardest decisions he had ever made, and implored voters to send in their ballot by mail and vote for Caruso, not him.
“We share the same values,” Buscaino said. “We want the same thing for our city. We want a city that is clean. We want a city that is safe. We want a city that leads with compassion and brings forth innovative solutions to the homelessness crisis. And Rick will do that.”
With less than four weeks remaining until the June 7 primary, Buscaino’s departure could provide a boost to Caruso, allowing him to consolidate the support of Angelenos who feel that the city has been too lax in preventing homeless encampments from sprouting up on city streets. The homelessness crisis and upticks in crime were the two issues that both candidates have been focusing on.
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Despite his best efforts, Buscaino’s mayoral candidacy never took hold. In Times polling over the last several months, he never garnered more than 4% of support among likely voters. A poll last month found that just 1% of likely voters backed him.
In an interview, Buscaino said Caruso called him last week to discuss the councilman’s plans for the rest of the race. After talking with advisors and his family, Buscaino said he realized there was no path forward for him.
The “candidate who is aligned with our vision and what we want the city to look like is Rick Caruso,” Buscaino said.
Caruso said Buscaino has been a dedicated public servant as a police officer and elected official, and that they had a shared view for how the city should be run.
“I’m grateful to the bottom of my heart. I know it’s a tough decision to make to drop out,” Caruso said.
Even with the early exit, Buscaino played a role in influencing the debate over the campaign’s biggest issues: crime and homelessness.
He was the first to call for the LAPD to have 11,000 officers, citing the city’s recent increases in homicides and gun violence. He also argued early on that Angelenos who are living on public sidewalks should not be permitted to remain there if they have been repeatedly offered beds in shelters, “tiny home” villages or other facilities.
“He really did identify several of the issues that have come to dominate the mayor’s race,” said former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a friend of Buscaino’s who had been informally advising him. “He accurately reflected what the electorate feels. Rick Caruso was able to amplify that message with his substantial resources and achieve front-runner status.”
On the council, Buscaino has been a loud — and sometimes lonely — voice in saying that the city needed to make anti-camping ordinances more stringent and exit the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. He also pushed for a ballot measure to accompany his candidacy that would have prohibited people from sleeping or camping on sidewalks and other public spaces if they have turned down offers of shelter or emergency housing.
His allies stopped collecting signatures for this measure after the city announced a proposed settlement in a federal lawsuit about homelessness.
A major turning point in the race for Buscaino came when the union that represents LAPD rank-and-file officers endorsed Caruso. Buscaino, like the other candidates, has been vastly outspent by the self-financed Caruso campaign — and had been hoping for the endorsement. The Los Angeles Police Protective League is known to spend big on the candidates it supports.
What made the decision especially devastating was the criticism leveled by the union’s leadership.
“Joe never articulated a plan on how to win or raise the money necessary to be competitive in this race,” union President Craig Lally told KFI’s “John & Ken” shortly after the endorsement became public. “He spent most of his time attacking Rick Caruso instead of explaining his vision.”
On Tuesday, an independent expenditure committee sponsored by the police union began airing nearly $2 million in advertisements attacking Caruso’s top opponent, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). A lawyer for the congresswoman sent a letter this week telling local stations to stop airing the ad, calling it untrue and “defamatory.” A union spokesman said no stations had yet taken the advertisement off the air.
Several of the candidates still in the race declined to weigh in on Buscaino’s departure. But Morgan Miller, who heads an independent expenditure committee supporting Bass, said in a statement that the move by Caruso and Buscaino amounted to a “backroom deal.”
“It’s unsettling that Councilmember Joe Buscaino has chosen to turn his back on the women of Los Angeles by endorsing a lifelong Republican who has funded the movement to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Miller said.
Caruso called the assertion “sad and pathetic” and said Buscaino would be an invaluable asset and sounding board for the campaign. The mall developer added that if he were to win, they’d have a conversation about a potential role in his administration.
“By the way, Joe’s got a ton of options. He does not need Rick Caruso,” Caruso said. “And I had that conversation with him.”
When asked if he was comfortable with Caruso’s views on abortion, Buscaino said he believed in “giving a woman that right to choose” and that he and his former opponent were in line on the issue.
Caruso, a former Republican who has repeatedly donated to GOP politicians, has said that he’s “pro-choice” and would be forming a California political action committee to support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ballot measure to create a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights. He said he will provide $100,000 in initial support and pledge $1 million toward the ballot measure.
A starkly contrasting pair are on track for a November runoff that would feature sharp divides by ideology, geography and race.
In the months leading up to Buscaino’s endorsement, Caruso was a frequent target of Buscaino and his campaign.
Even before the real estate developer entered the race, Buscaino campaign strategist Michael Trujillo repeatedly highlighted Caruso’s campaign donations to Republican candidates. Trujillo also targeted Caruso’s time as chairman of USC’s board of trustees, saying the mall developer had “legit destroyed a once proud university.”
“I’m just a good ol fashion common sense democrat trying to prevent Rick Caruso from running,” Trujillo posted last year.
During the first televised debate that included Caruso, Buscaino mocked him for not showing up for other candidate forums and town halls.
Caruso later attacked Buscaino, citing a Times article about how he has spent tens of thousands of dollars from his officeholder account on trips to Hawaii, Italy and elsewhere for his family since he was elected. The spending, which is allowed under city ethics rules, far exceeds the amount spent by other elected city officials on travel for family members during this period.
Even after Buscaino decided to drop out, his political strategists continued to assail Caruso on Thursday. One of Buscaino’s top consultants, Bill Burton, posted a tweet noting Caruso’s support of Republicans.
“He has no business being the mayor of one of the greatest cities in the world,” Burton wrote. “Los Angeles can do so much better.”
Buscaino represents neighborhoods stretching from San Pedro and L.A.’s harbor north to Watts. In order to run for mayor, he chose not to seek a third and final term on the council.
In recent days, ballots were mailed to all registered voters and include Buscaino’s name. So any vote cast for the San Pedro resident will still count for him even though he has dropped out.
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