Will a debate with Rick Caruso be significantly different from what we’ve seen before?
That will be the question on Tuesday night as the top five candidates for mayor of Los Angeles take the stage at USC’s Bovard Auditorium, with Caruso joining City Atty Rep. Karen Bass for the first time. Mike Feuer and advisers Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino.
The debate – sponsored by The Times, USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future and Fox 11 Los Angeles – will be moderated by Times columnist Erika D. Smith and Fox 11 anchor Elex Michaelson.
This will be the second televised debate before the June 7 primary, and political watchers are eager to see how Caruso’s presence changes the dynamic. The other four candidates have been cordial during public appearances. During the first televised debate last month, the fiercest blows came from half a dozen protesters who repeatedly disrupted the event at Loyola Marymount University. But Feuer and Buscaino both shot Caruso in absentia.
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Bass, a six-term congressman who founded the South LA nonprofit Community Coalition, emerged as an early frontrunner. A poll in early February by the UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies, co-sponsored by The Times, showed Bass with a wide lead, with 32% of likely voters saying they would support her if the primary were held then. . De León and Caruso (who had yet to officially enter the race at the time of the poll) both had 8% support with likely voters, while Feuer and Buscaino both voted at 4%. Most voters at the time were undecided.
Since then, Caruso has opened a firehose of political spending that likely dwarfs the output of all the other candidates combined. His “Caruso can” message dominated ads on local TV and social media for weeks. Without a recent official poll, it’s hard to quantify how strongly that message resonated with voters, but the pervasive publicity almost certainly reshaped the race’s initial landscape.
The question for the other three candidates is whether they will spend their time on stage defending themselves or chasing the frontrunners, said political consultant Bill Carrick.
“It’s a tough problem because if you go on the offensive you run the risk of looking mean,” said Carrick, who advised Jessica Lall before she retired from racing. That could be a problem, especially for lesser-known candidates who are essentially running for voters, Carrick said.
Feuer and Buscaino have already shown a propensity to pursue Caruso. Bass is unlikely to do so; it remains to be seen whether De León will indulge in attacks. It’s possible other candidates will take a shot at Bass, though the telegenic billionaire is probably the punching bag of choice.
Viewers can expect to hear a lot about the police and homelessness, the issues that have dominated the race so far.
Bass, one of the most prominent progressives in the race, has come under fire from left-leaning organizers for some of her more moderate stances, including a public safety plan that would bring the Los Angeles Police Department back to strength authorized of 9,700 agents.
“All the candidates are really playing to this ‘silent majority’ which may not be as vocal as the activists who spoke out in that first debate at Loyola Marymount,” said Sara Sadhwani, assistant professor of politics at the Pomona College. “I’m curious to see if this continues tomorrow or if we see any pivots,” added Sadhwani, who has studied voting behavior, with a focus on the representation of racial, ethnic and immigrant communities.
Bass’s plan, which aims to keep LAPD spending at roughly the same level as it is today, calls for far fewer officers than the proposals put forward by Caruso and Buscaino.
Caruso, who served as chairman of the Los Angeles Police Board, was endorsed last month by the union that represents LAPD rank and file officers. The move was seen as a setback for Buscaino, a former LAPD officer who had sought to position himself as a law enforcement candidate. Caruso has also been endorsed in recent weeks by former LAPD chiefs Charlie Beck and William Braton.
With only 77 days to go to the primary, the quintet of the best candidates will fight on stage to differentiate themselves.
“The overwhelming majority are candidates who have similar visions for the future of Los Angeles and support pretty similar policies,” Sadhwani said. “I’m very curious to see if the gloves come off or not when Caruso takes the stage.”
Los Angeles Times