Rick Caruso and Karen Bass head for runoff in Los Angeles mayor race

LOS ANGELES — Rick Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer, and Rep. Karen Bass are heading into a November runoff election to become mayor of Los Angeles, in a race that has focused on voter concerns about public safety and roaming in the second-largest city.

Although neither candidate obtained more than 50% of the votes, which would have allowed them to win on Tuesday, they both significantly outclassed their opponents. The runoff was declared by the Associated Press.

The liberal city’s wave of support for Mr. Caruso, a longtime Republican who changed his registration to Democratic days before declaring his candidacy, is likely to deepen divisions in the Democratic Party on issues of crime, policing and racial justice. San Francisco voters also turned out Tuesday to recall Chesa Boudin, the city’s progressive attorney.

As Mr Caruso gave a speech to his supporters at The Grove, his flagship shopping center in Los Angeles, he presented himself as an optimist with big plans to solve the city’s twin problems of crime and homelessness .

“We are not helpless in the face of our problems,” he said, surrounded by his wife and their four children. “We will not allow this city to decline. We will no longer accept excuses. We have the power to change the direction of Los Angeles.

Ms Bass was widely seen as the frontrunner in the crowded primary before Mr Caruso entered in February, but her lavish spending and tough-on-crime message soon propelled her forward, leading several other candidates to drop out of the race to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose duration is limited.

The developer of several popular luxury shopping malls, Mr Caruso, 63, has tied his campaign closely to the immaculate image he has cultivated in the faux plazas of these properties. His campaign has spent nearly $41 million, including $39 million of his own money, much of it on TV, digital and radio ads that appeared to cover the airwaves in recent weeks portraying him as a successful businessman. who could “clean up” Los Angeles.

Mr Caruso could face a steeper climb in the general election if senior Democrats rally behind Ms Bass.

“Together we can make our city a place where you can afford to live, where you want to live, because you feel safe, because the air you breathe is clean, because people don’t die anymore on the street,” Ms. Bass said. supporters at the W Hollywood hotel on Tuesday evening. “Not with empty promises from the past, but with a bold path.”

A victory for Mr. Caruso would be a significant change in this predominantly liberal city, where Senator Bernie Sanders easily won the Democratic presidential primary two years ago. The city’s longstanding battles over housing, homelessness and crime have taken on a new level of urgency during the pandemic.

Mr Caruso portrayed the city as a city in deep decay, promising to hire 1,500 more police officers and build 30,000 accommodation beds in 300 days. The message resonated with voters who are deeply frustrated with homeless encampments across the city, visible on residential sidewalks, tucked away in parks and sprawling under freeway overpasses.

Presenting himself as an outsider, Mr Caruso blamed career politicians, including Ms Bass, for the city’s ills. After voting in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Mr Caruso slammed his rival for suggesting it could take more than four years to solve homelessness in the city, an objection he repeated in his speech on Tuesday evening.

But experts and critics say many of Mr. Caruso’s promises may not be possible due to Federal Court warrants that allow people to camp in public spaces, as well as the city’s Byzantine zoning rules. . Compared to leaders in other major cities, the mayor of Los Angeles has relatively little power. Much of the sprawling region is controlled by the six-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who oversee a $38.5 billion budget.

Ms Bass, 68, who spent years organizing in South Los Angeles after the 1992 riots before being elected to the state Legislature and then to Congress, described her campaign as a back to basics and committed to addressing issues of equity in this deeply stratified city. .

The campaign between the two is also set to become a test of whether this year’s voters favor a seasoned politician who has spent nearly two decades in government or an outsider operating on his business credentials.

Latino voters are expected to play a central role in the November election and will be aggressively courted by both candidates. The polls also indicated a stark gender gap, with black and Latino men seeming more likely to choose Mr. Caruso over Ms. Bass.

Mr. Caruso’s critics, including an independent spending committee backing Ms. Bass, frequently compare him to former President Donald J. Trump, an analogy he has dismissed. Instead, Mr. Caruso and his supporters compare him to Michael R. Bloomberg, another billionaire who switched parties and won three terms as mayor of New York.

Mr Caruso was a lifelong Republican and generously donated to the party, but changed his registration to independent in 2019 and then became a Democrat this year, just before announcing his mayoral candidacy.

Mr. Caruso and his supporters argue that most Los Angeles voters aren’t worried about his past support for Republican causes and candidates, including donations to candidates who have fought against abortion rights. Mr Caruso has dismissed criticism from organizations like Planned Parenthood and insists he supports ‘a woman’s right to choose’.

Mr. Caruso’s campaign has been aided by several senior veteran Democratic advisers, including Ace Smith, Sean Clegg and Juan Rodriguez. The three advised Vice President Kamala Harris during her failed presidential campaign as well as Governor Gavin Newsom, who easily rebuffed a recall election last year. Mr. Caruso’s team also included several advisers who helped Eric Adams’ successful run for mayor of New York last year.

Ms. Bass, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was on President Biden’s shortlist as a possible vice president. Her advisers expect her to be able to shore up support from local and state Democrats, which they say will persuade the city’s predominantly left-leaning voters.

Over the past four months, Mr. Caruso’s ads have been almost a staple in Los Angeles, and he has spent more than 10 times more than Ms. Bass’ campaign on TV, digital and radio ads.

Rosario Guzmán, 82, who was voting at the Avalon Carver Community Center in South Los Angeles on Tuesday, said she hadn’t felt so unsafe in Los Angeles since leaving Mexico more than a year ago. four decades – and that she had pinned her hopes on Mr. Caruso, whose advertisements she had often seen on television.

“I have faith in him, a lot of faith,” she said, citing her Roman Catholic beliefs as the reason for her sentencing. (Speaking in Spanish, Ms. Guzmán repeatedly referred to Mr. Caruso as “Señor Corazón” or Mr. Heart.)

Jill Cowan contributed report.

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