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L.A. on the Record: Firefighters go with Caruso

LAFD firefighters at a 2016 graduation ceremony.
LAFD firefighters at a 2016 ceremony.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s Dakota Smith, with help from Julia Wick, to get you to the November election.

As an Assembly member, Karen Bass sponsored the Firefighter Bill of Rights, landmark legislation that protects firefighters when they are the targets of investigations. And in Congress, she’s supported hiring more firefighters.

But the city’s powerful firefighter union endorsed rival Rick Caruso this week in the Los Angeles mayor’s race. “Firefighters and paramedics desperately want change,” Freddy Escobar, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, told The Times.

“We want a better Los Angeles, and we decided that Rick Caruso is in the best position to deliver the positive change that our city needs,” Escobar said.

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More than 100 firefighters took part in Monday’s endorsement vote after both candidates each spoke for about an hour. Members were also told that the UFLAC PAC recommended Bass, according to one firefighter, who asked to remain anonymous because he wasn’t authorized to speak.

Escobar said that his union members — UFLAC represents 3,300 firefighters and paramedics — are overworked.

“We have fewer firefighters today in the LAFD than we did 30 years ago in a completely different city, as emergency calls have more than doubled in that time,” Escobar said.

The ramifications of homelessness are significant for the front-line workers: Three firefighters were recently injured in a fire at a South L.A. church that was allegedly set by a homeless person, and a Times story last year detailed the growing number of fires at homeless encampments.

Whoever wins the mayor’s race will also oversee a Fire Department facing some internal challenges, including frustration over the LAFD’s disciplinary process.

Anti-vaccine critics at the department also made the city’s vaccine mandate a national issue. And The Times last year detailed the complaints of some female and Black fire fighters over mistreatment.

At an event in Sherman Oaks on Wednesday, Caruso said L.A. should have the most “resourced” Fire Department in the country.

The developer, who also has the backing of the police union and frequently talks about the need to add police officers, expressed concern over the staffing levels.

“They would like to get beyond before they were cut back [under then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa],” Caruso said. “I think we first have to get to where they were and then build from there.”

Caruso also said that he would focus on building housing for firefighters and police officers so they could afford to live in L.A.

Bass has the support of the Los Angeles City Stentorians, which is made up of African American firefighters. The group hosted a fundraiser for her on Sept. 11.

“We support her because she’s the best candidate and because she’s worked for firefighters for years,” said Gerald Durant, president of the Los Angeles City Stentorians.

United Firefighters of Los Angeles City has also endorsed Traci Park in the City Council District 11 race in Venice and is sending out mailers highlighting homelessness. “We must do better,” one of the mailers stated.

State of play

— CAMPAIGN FINANCE DROP: The latest set of disclosures shows that Caruso has spent more than $62 million since launching his mayoral bid in February, nearly all of it his own money. Bass has spent just over $6 million since entering the race more than a year ago, meaning the real estate developer has outspent her by a factor of 10.

— ATTACK AD O’CLOCK: Caruso put the first post-primary negative ad on TV this week, with 30- and 60-second spots that intercut Bass praising Scientology at a 2010 event with negative coverage of the church.

Bass released her own new digital attack ad Thursday, seeking to connect Caruso to USC’s role in the Varsity Blues admissions scandal and pointing out that when the scandal broke, one of the involved students was allegedly spring-breaking on Caruso’s yacht.

But, as our colleague Matt Hamilton noted on Twitter, “When the college admissions scandal broke, Caruso and other USC leaders and trustees were actually in Washington D.C. for their annual lobbying trip, visiting Bass and other lawmakers.”

— HOSPITAL WAGE HIKE: L.A. voters will decide in March 2024 whether to boost the minimum wage to at least $25 an hour for a range of workers at privately owned hospitals and dialysis clinics, thanks to a council vote on Friday. Council members voted earlier this year to adopt the wage increase, championed by the labor union SEIU-UHW. But hospital groups and other opponents gathered enough signatures to force the city to put the decision before voters instead.

— WHERE’S THE BEEF?: Enough squabbling over Scientology and USC. Times columnist Steve Lopez writes that Bass and Caruso need to focus on the city’s big challenges, namely homelessness, not distractions.

— MANSION TAX: Neither Caruso nor Bass have come out in support of a ballot measure going before city voters in November, The Times reports. Known as Measure ULA, or “United to House L.A.,” the “mansion tax” would impose an additional tax on commercial and residential property sales that exceed $5 million.

NEW POLL: Orange County pollster Adam Probolsky recently did a small poll of 500 likely voters that found Bass leading Caruso 48% to 42% with 10% of the electorate undecided. He’s been doing work in the city including research for opponents of the aforementioned tax on property sales that will be on the November ballot.

GROVE PROTEST WATCH: Activists who sued Caruso’s company for the right to protest against the mayoral candidate at his flagship shopping mall were handed an interim victory this week. A judge granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, saying they could hold one protest at the Grove under specific guidelines sometime between Oct. 6 and election day. The Caruso company has appealed and added one of the nation’s most prominent lawyers — former Stanford Law School dean Kathleen Sullivan — to their team.

BIZ PITCH: Caruso on Tuesday unveiled his plan to help small businesses, which he said have been hurt by crime and homelessness.

SLIPPING SUPPORT: Three political groups and a longtime L.A. labor rights expert have rescinded their endorsements of City Council candidate Danielle Sandoval, following reports by The Times on outstanding wage theft claims targeting her restaurant.

FUR IS FLYING: The city’s Animal Services department is quickly becoming an issue in the race for City Controller. Amid The Times’ coverage of problems at the department, candidate Kenneth Mejia is volunteering at the shelters. “We have 41 days until we get into office,” he said at this week’s Animal Services commission meeting, adding that he intends to hold LAAS “accountable” and that he’ll have “subpoena power.”

Rival candidate City Councilman Paul Koretz, who oversees a committee focused on animal issues, is expected to give his own shelter recommendations soon.

Meanwhile, City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson told The Times that his visit this week to the city’s South L.A. shelter was “overwhelming” and that there were only nine staffers working at the shelter. He was left feeling that staff “are underwater and figuring it out day by day, and the animals suffer in the process.”

Caruso contractor flap

The Caruso campaign is trying to distance itself from a prominent local anti-mask activist after independent journalist Sean Beckner-Carmitchel tweeted out video of Shiva Bagheri at a party this week for Caruso campaign staffers.

Caruso spokesperson Peter Ragone said Wednesday that Bagheri — who is known for organizing pro-Trump “freedom rallies” in Beverly Hills — had been working “for a subcontractor on our field program” but was no longer with the campaign.

Ragone said she had attended the Monday night party on the rooftop of the Grove parking lot as a plus-one with another guest. “We obviously reject her views,” Ragone said.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Bagheri seemed surprised to hear that she was no longer working for the campaign. She said she had briefly stopped working as a canvasser after the hours had changed, conflicting with her Bible study classes and other commitments. But, she said, the hours had changed again and she was scheduled to work Friday.

Bagheri described canvassing for Caruso as a great job, saying she was paid $30 an hour and given a $10 gas card for every shift. “And they give you snacks, water, sunscreen, T-shirts,” she said.

Ragone reiterated Thursday that Bagheri was no longer with the campaign.

Per Beckner-Carmitchel’s original tweet thread, Bagheri was at the campaign staffer party with two other activists, Paul Onaga and Ashley Jeffery. The pair previously protested outside Council President Nury Martinez’s home last September, according to Beckner-Carmitchel and Los Angeles Magazine.

Ragone also said Onaga and Jeffery were no longer working for the campaign subcontractor.

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QUICK HITS

  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador of India awaits a Senate vote. He was in Washington this week to attend Rosh Hashanah and Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations at the White House, according to his spokesperson.
  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: Sen. Dianne Feinstein backed Bass. So did the Actors’ Equity, per Deadline. Avance Democratic Club endorsed Caruso.
  • And other city/county endorsements: L.A. city attorney candidate Faisal Gill won the endorsement of Teamsters Joint Council 42. La Opinión endorsed rival Hydee Feldstein Soto. United Teachers Los Angeles, Miracle Mile Democratic Club, Asian Dems of Los Angeles County, Supervisor Hilda Solis and the West L.A. Democratic Club backed Erin Darling in the CD 11 race, while City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez backed his opponent, Traci Park. California Environmental Voters backed Lindsey Horvath in the L.A. County Supervisor District 3 race, as did the city union Engineers and Architects. City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson also backed Horvath. Streets for All endorsed Hugo Soto-Martínez in the CD 13 race.

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

  • On the docket for next week: The Pacific Palisades Democratic Club will host candidate forums with CD 11 candidates Darling and Park and supervisorial candidates Horvath and Bob Hertzberg on Sunday afternoon. Yom Kippur begins Tuesday night. Caruso and Bass will face off Thursday in a radio debate hosted by KNX News. The debate will air live on KNX News 97.1 FM, the 1070 AM simulcast and streaming on social media.

Stay in touch

That’s it for this week! Send your questions, comments and gossip to LAontheRecord@latimes.com. Did a friend forward you this email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Saturday morning.


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