The first attack on mayoral candidate Rick Caruso came less than 10 minutes into Tuesday night’s debate at USC’s Bovard Auditorium.
Councilman Joe Buscaino, before discussing his housing plans, joked that he was glad Caruso was “finally” on the debate stage.
“I think I was attacked,” Caruso told the audience, looking amused. “It was like an attack.”
Almost every major Los Angeles mayoral candidate has taken aim at Caruso, attacking the real estate developer for his plan to spend on police, his support for Dist. Atti. George Gascón and his personal yacht in the first TV forum to feature all five on stage.
The focus on Caruso highlighted his threat in the race. Since entering last month, Caruso has spent big on his campaign, running TV commercials, posting ads on YouTube and buying other forms of paid media to tout his plans to solve crime, homelessness and the corruption of Los Angeles.
While most of the other contestants had to raise funds in $1,500 increments – the maximum allowed per donor per election cycle – Caruso, the developer of The Grove, Americana at Brand and other malls, was able to tap into his personal wealth.
When Buscaino then discussed his efforts to address homelessness in his district, which stretches from San Pedro to Watts, Caruso fired back.
“The thing is, since you’ve been a councilman, there are 700 more people on the streets in your district alone,” Caruso said. “So I don’t know if you’re quantifying success, as the problem got worse under your leadership.”
The debate was co-sponsored by The Times, the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future and Fox 11, with Times columnist Erika D. Smith and Fox 11 anchor Elex Michaelson serving as moderators.
The event was the second major televised debate ahead of the June 7 primary. And it was the first to feature Caruso on the same stage as her most prominent rivals – Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), City Atty. Mike Feuer and Councilman Kevin de León and Buscaino.
For 90 minutes, the five candidates engaged in a free-wheeling debate that focused on homelessness, public safety, police personnel, Gascon’s mandate and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s record.
Attacks on Caruso woven throughout the discussion. Feuer took aim at rent control, which helps keep rents affordable, but which many developers oppose.
“You haven’t done much to build affordable, homeless housing,” Feuer told Caruso. “Every opportunity you’ve had instead, you’ve opposed rent control.”
“Mike, I’m sorry, but you opened that door,” Caruso replied, before reminding the audience that Feuer’s office was raided by FBI agents in the sprawling scandal involving the Department of Water. and Energy and the double game of lawyers.
At another point, Feuer turned a question about Garcetti’s performance into another opportunity to challenge Caruso, asking the neophyte politician if he was ready to release his last five years of taxes. Caruso said he would, as soon as all the other candidates were ready to release theirs.
“I think you have a $100 million yacht that is registered under the Cayman Islands flag,” Feuer said, issuing his challenge. “I think people here should ask themselves if people are paying their fair share of taxes. I’m ready to release my taxes for the past five years tomorrow. Are you?”
After quipping on the “big question” his opponent had posed, Caruso said, “I will release everything I paid in taxes, including the taxes on this boat, which I paid. I will release everything I pay in taxes and believe me, I pay my fair share.
De León, meanwhile, wondered how Caruso would pay for his proposed extra police without raising taxes or cutting the budget “to the bone”. “You can’t have it both ways,” De León told Caruso, who replied that he would focus on “growing the pie” by creating new revenue for the city by adding jobs and businesses.
Other attacks continued throughout the night, although the mood was light at times.
“It’s obviously a three against one or something,” Caruso said at one point.
— Editors Julia Wick and Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report
Los Angeles Times