Lopez: $40 million can’t buy lead in Los Angeles mayoral race

Mall developer Rick Caruso can buy just about anything he wants without having to balance his checkbook.

His $100 million yacht didn’t come close to breaking the bank, and the billionaire Brentwood resident has also owned spreads in Malibu and Newport Beach, as well as a Montecito hotel where rooms can cost around $10,000 a night. .

For all his money, however, and after spending an estimated $40 million on his Los Angeles mayoral campaign over the past six months, he hasn’t been able to buy the lead.

In the updated tables for the June 7 primary, U.S. Representative Karen Bass passed Caruso, taking the lead with 41% of the vote to Caruso’s 38%. In previous comebacks, Bass had trailed by as much as 5 percentage points.

“I’m not surprised,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, political analyst and co-host of the “Inside Golden State Politics” podcast.

Jeffe said she returned and reviewed 18 political races in California involving self-funded millionaires, including Silicon Valley mogul Meg Whitman, who spent $150 million or more of her own fortune in a race for the post of governor against Jerry Brown.

“Of the 18, only one reached gold and grabbed it,” Jeffe said. “Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Caruso looks sprightly in designer suits and his mall fountains never stop dancing, but he’s not a movie action hero, nor does he have the kind of recognition name that Schwarzenegger was about to become governor.

Let’s not forget, however, that the votes are still being counted, although I for one don’t understand how it can take so long, especially given the paltry turnout. Once upon a time there was a TV show called “Mr. Ed”, featuring a talking horse who could count, and maybe we should see if he’s available to help us. It could take days or even weeks before County is finished here, and that means the lead could change again, with Caruso and Bass swapping pole position.

What’s certain at this point is that they’re both guaranteed a spot in the November runoff, and one of them will be the next mayor of Los Angeles.

But the latest two updates represent “a significant boost” for Bass, and are sure to affect his camp’s morale during the primary, said Raphael Sonenshein of Cal State LA’s Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs.

If she retains the lead, Jeffe said, “a lot of wallets could open” to help her weather another expected onslaught from the Caruso publicity. Even before the latest update, Bass was optimistic about closing in on the lead – in the polls and early returns – despite being outspent more than 12 to 1.

There are a few theories circulating as to whether the Caruso commercial, which hits you everywhere but in your sleep, has hit a saturation point, as in, God, not him yet. Or that in the final weeks of the primary, anti-Bass ads tried without any support to link her to corruption, and there may have been a backlash.

Rick Caruso stops to talk and hug Boyle Heights resident Griselda Chapa.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

The day he voted in Boyle Heights, Caruso posed for a photo with supporter Griselda Chapa, who told me she was tired of waiting for career politicians to do something, and she told Caruso that he was definitely going to win.

“From your lips to God’s ears,” said Caruso, who told Chapa he prayed at church that morning with his pastor and plans to work hard for Chapa every day. as mayor.

On the way to filling out his ballot, I asked Caruso if he was going to continue the media blitz throughout the general election. He told me he didn’t know yet. He still had to discuss it with his team.

If he spent $40 million to get there, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lead the overall standings. But he might want to think about refining the spiel.

“When I first saw his commercials on TV, I thought they were good, well produced, strong and with the right message,” Jeffe said. “But then I saw them so often that I started to realize he really meant nothing to you. Everyone is going to do something about homelessness. Everyone will do something about crime. But there were no specifics and his argument, to me, seemed increasingly thin.

That’s the problem with elections run this way – it’s hard to get past the simplifications, and sometimes that’s the strategy. Keep it simple and don’t muddy the message.

But I’m not sure it works in this election. The core issue – homelessness combined with the lack of affordable housing – has been articulated for years, and as Jeffe said, we’ve heard many complaints from people saying they’re going to fix it.

Bass’ first comments about her homelessness plan, when she announced her candidacy, landed with a disappointing thud, as it was a regurgitation of the same old, same old. She’s filled in some gaps since then, and her best argument is that she’ll be able to guide the forces needed as someone who’s worked as a state and federal legislator and knows most of the local power players.

But I still want to hear more details about how she plans to house 20,000 people in her first year and how she plans to deal with legal, financial and real estate hurdles – as well as a meth epidemic and disaster. mental health – not to mention the fact that under the current structure, no agency or person is responsible.

All the same questions apply to Caruso. He was smart and right to campaign on the idea that our fearless leaders cannot control homelessness and messy streets, or corruption, and rising crime.

But he grossly oversimplifies the challenges and has kicked in the sand for public officials that he will need help to do anything. He likes to say we need housing and he’s a builder, like that’s the perfect fit, but here’s a thought:

He’s known for years that he wants to be mayor. Given the epic shortage of affordable housing for workers and those on the brink of homelessness, why hasn’t he built something other than malls, high-end housing and hotel rooms at $10,000 a night?

It would have looked great on his resume and he might have gotten a better return on his $40 million investment.

But with five months to go, it’s anyone’s race to win. And Los Angeles stands ready, after too long a wait, for someone to take matters into their own hands.

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Los Angeles Times

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