By MICHAEL R. BLOOD – AP Political Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Many voters in heavily Democratic Los Angeles are seething over rising crime and homelessness, which could prompt the city to turn to the political right for the first time in decades. .
One of the leading mayoral candidates is Rick Caruso, a billionaire pro-business Republican turned Democrat who sits on the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and promises to increase police spending, not fund it.
At any other time, the upscale mall and resort developer would seem an unlikely choice to potentially lead the nation’s second-most populous city, where Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders was the clear winner of the Democratic presidential primary. of 2020. A progressive city hall has embraced the so-called sanctuary city protections for people who entered the United States illegally and the climate policies of the “Green New Deal”.
But these are tough times in Los Angeles, with more than 40,000 people living in trash-strewn homeless encampments and rusting RVs, distress over armed robberies and home invasions as inflation and taxes are eating away at wallets – gas in an area built on road trips has cracked $6 a gallon. Rents and house prices have skyrocketed.
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Caruso is spending millions of his estimated $4.3 billion fortune to fund a seemingly non-stop display of television and online ads to tap into voter angst. The question is whether enough people will accept his plans to add 1,500 police officers and promise to get the homeless off the streets, without shrinking from his vast wealth.
Twelve names are on the ballot for the primary election that ends June 7, though several candidates have withdrawn and the race is shaping up to be a fight between Caruso and Democratic U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who was on the ballot. President-elect Joe Biden’s shortlist. for the vice president.
If no candidate gets 50% – which is likely with a crowded ballot – the top two advance to a runoff in November. Bass could become the first woman to hold the position and the second black person.
Bass and Caruso aren’t well known in a town that can be notoriously indifferent to local politics.
“Part of it will be what people think of them as they get to know them better. We don’t know the answer to that,” said veteran Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, who thinks voters are looking for solutions to homelessness and crime, without obsessing over their past political affiliations.The contest is technically non-partisan.
Bass, 68, is a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, while Caruso, 63, is a political shape-shifter who calls himself a “centrist, pro-jobs, pro-public safety Democrat.”
According to government records, he was a Republican for more than two decades before becoming an independent in 2011. Caruso became a Republican again in 2016 — a year he served as co-chair of the California campaign for Republican John Kasich’s presidential bid — then independent again. in 2019. He became a Democrat shortly before entering the mayoral race in February.
He has donated to candidates from both parties, which has drawn criticism from Democrats who point to his financial support for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, among others. And he’s been regularly attacked for an opulent lifestyle, including owning a 9-bedroom yacht.
The mayoral race is one of many competitive contests in the state’s primary where political loyalties are tested by questions about the leadership of California’s dominant Democratic Party, which holds all state offices and dominates the margins of the legislature and the congressional delegation.
San Francisco voters are considering recalling District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a Democrat who critics say has not prosecuted repeat offenders, while Democratic State Attorney General Rob Bonta faces several challengers who claim that he favors criminal justice reform over victims of crime, that he argues.
A looming question in Los Angeles is who will show up. About 80% of voters did not vote when incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti won re-election in 2017.
There is deep dismay with the government across LA A major challenge for Caruso, Bass and other rivals – including Councilman Kevin de Leon, a former Democratic leader in the state Senate – will be convincing voters that change is possible.
A concrete example: the owner of a gas station, Wignesh Kandavel. He says his complaints went unanswered for years about homeless people setting up campsites around a freeway overpass just steps from his nearby pumps and market.
Slumped tents and garbage are cleared out from time to time, to keep the homeless coming back again. He says drug use is rampant, shoplifting is a constant problem, and begging off the freeway is a daily routine.
The Nigerian immigrant and registered Republican who came to the United States in search of a better life has lost interest in the election and does not see any candidate as credible.
“The whole system is gone,” Kandavel said.
Caruso’s ascendancy in the race – polls show him closely tied to Bass – has alarmed longtime Democrats who attack him as a poser trying to buy the job. His campaign has raised around $30 million, most of which is his money.
There’s the expected competition on celebrity endorsements — Earvin “Magic” Johnson backs Bass, while Caruso has Snoop Dogg and Gwyneth Paltrow behind him. Already, the rivalry is taking a bad turn, especially in the announcements of the groups supporting the candidates.
Bass’s advertisements recall her work as a medical assistant during the crack epidemic and her time in Congress and the Legislative Assembly. But the police union that backed Caruso is running ads that try to link Bass to a federal corruption case involving his longtime friend, suspended councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. She calls the advertisements lies.
Caruso’s ad touts his immigrant grandparents, his philanthropic efforts, and his promise to work for $1 a year. But ads run by an independent group supporting Bass and funded by labor unions and former Disney Studios chief Jeffrey Katzenberg paint Caruso as an LA version of former President Donald Trump trying to cover up an “extreme” record.
Retired public defender Paul Enright said he was undecided in the mayoral race but discouraged by Caruso’s spending spree which totals more than the other candidates combined. A Democrat in favor of public campaign financing, he leans towards Bass or de Leon.
It’s a “classic example of how money talks,” Enright said.
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