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LA on the Record: The Mayor’s Race, Live from the Grove


Hello and welcome to LA on the Record – our local election newsletter. It’s Julia Wick, here with an assist from David Zahniser for our penultimate dispatch (!) before the primary.

The Grove – a Disney-esque Los Angeles shopping complex developed by a mayoral candidate Rick Caruso – has become an unlikely campaign destination in recent weeks.

First, board member Joe BuscainoThe mayoralty campaign took its last breath just steps from an AMC multiplex. Isolated from shoppers and tourists by a set of small black velvet ropes, Buscaino abandoned the race and endorsed Caruso in the heart of the grove.

Two weeks later, a small group of reporters returned to the luxury mall to see the longshot contestant Ramit Varma support Caruso.

This event took place on an outdoor patio accessed by Caruso’s private office suite, where fresh orchids abounded and the encrusted Caruso family crest shone in the center of the marble floors.

A single copy of the Montecito Journal featuring Caruso sat on the upstairs lobby coffee table, opposite purple couch cushions that appeared to match Caruso’s costume on the magazine’s cover.

The candidate’s malls are known for their spectacle and highly organized sense of place, and every detail in the offices has been equally considered.

Campaign events in a candidate’s mall are a surreal experience, even in a race upended by mountains of cash and shiny production values. But is there really anything wrong with it?

Jessica LevinsonLoyola Law School professor and former chair of the LA City Ethics Commission, said she sees no problem, as long as the Caruso campaign pays for the use of the space or properly registers it as a donation in kind.

Pierre Ragone, a spokesperson for the Caruso campaign, said the grove was chosen for these events because it was a convenient and central location that made sense on those days. Most of the campaign events took place in other locations in the city, he said. The campaign paid Caruso’s company comparable market rates for space and resource usage during the Buscaino event and has yet to report on the more recent Varma event, Ragone said. .

Caruso’s vast wealth and personal brand are inseparable from his candidacy: he could not cover the city with his message without his personal fortune. And that message hinges on using his success as a businessman (developing malls like the Grove) as a reason to vote for him.

But there was no promotional flogging of the mall at either event. In fact, it would be hard to argue that Caruso is using her campaign for financial gain, given that he has already hemorrhaged tens of millions of dollars paying her.

(Caruso said he would put his company, which owns and operates billions of dollars worth of commercial properties in Southern California, into a blind trust and allow its chief development officer to take the helm s ‘he wins.)

Still, Levinson said the standards for impropriety would be higher if Caruso won the election.

“There’s something very different about a mayoral candidate having a rally at their place of work, compared to the mayor having an event there,” she said.

State of play

‘WHY DID RICK CARUSO DARKEN THIS IMAGE?’: Caruso campaign is under fire for artificially darkening its opponent’s images Rep. Karen Bass in an attack announcement published last week. At a rally organized by Bass supporters on Thursday morning, posters featuring the images were displayed and a speaker denounced the ads as racist.

“Caruso stokes racial fears by running ads that artificially darken Congresswoman Bass’ face,” the Moms in Office founder said. Simona Grace said at the rally. “The Republican Party has been using this kind of racist dog whistle policy for years.”

The Caruso campaign said the high-contrast filter was quickly removed from the ad after objections were raised, and noted that Bass supporters used a high-contrast filter in an attack ad targeting Caruso.

It is true that contrast or shadow effects are not uncommon in lead ads. But Caruso is a white man and Bass is a black woman, which makes the optics of a complexion-darkening ad a very different matter for the two. There’s a long history of controversy over political attack ads that darken the skin of black candidates. And whatever the intent, research shows that such images can exacerbate viewers’ implicit racial biases.

Footage of the Rick Caruso ad that drew criticism was displayed at a rally in support of Rep. Karen Bass’s mayoral campaign on Thursday morning.

(Julia Wick/Los Angeles Times)

FERVENT ’50+1′ SPECULATION UNBOXING: Whispers about whether Caruso might attempt a moonshot strategy by breaking the 50% threshold in June have become deafening in recent weeks. Although it is technically possible for a candidate to win mayoralty in June, experts say it would be highly unlikely. Here’s why.

WHERE THE VALLEY? The San Fernando Valley has evolved from its largely white and conservative past to resemble the more diverse city of Los Angeles as a whole. Which, as columnist Sandy Banks writes, begs the question: Karen Bass or Rick Caruso?

CANDIDATES’ POSITION ON THE POLICE: Police and crime in Los Angeles have been among the race’s dominant issues. The Times’ James Queally examines where the candidates stand on various aspects and how their positions differ.

— A PISSING MATCH BETWEEN BOSSES: Caruso and the Hollywood Titan Jeffrey Katzenbergwho supports Bass, have publicly argued about the race.

PLAYING CATCH-UP: Did you miss last week’s KCRW-Los Angeles Times Mayors Forum on Homelessness? You can still listen to the podcast version.

And in non-municipal news …

CALL MOM AND DAD: With Los Angeles Mayor Eric GarcettiWith Antonio’s ambassadorial nomination stalled in the US Senate, his parents took a step more typical of industries or governments: They hired a national lobbying firm to help pave the way for a vote. It is highly unusual for the parents of a politician to hire a lobbying firm on behalf of their adult son.

HOME IS WHERE THE ELECTORAL REGISTRATION IS: The Times looked at the race between Current Council Member Awards and college administrator Dulce Vasquez, which focused heavily on Vasquez’s time living — and voting — in the 9th Ward, which encompasses part of South Los Angeles. Price said Vasquez lacks roots or knowledge in the neighborhood. Vasquez, the daughter of immigrants, said she was well aware of the neighborhood’s problems.

TENANT REVOLT: The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to make an offer on Hillside Villa, a 124-unit apartment complex in Chinatown, following an emotionally charged hearing in which residents expressed their rage over huge rent hikes. The proposal comes as Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents Chinatown, is in an uphill battle for re-election. But there are still a number of uncertainties, including the price of the building and each tenant’s ability to stay.

The money shot

The latest installment of campaign finance disclosures was released Thursday, revealing what candidates received and spent from April 24 to May 21, according to documents submitted to the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

We’ll start with the two headlines: Bass is experiencing a real surge in donors and has raised almost half a million in less than a month. And Caruso is continuing to pour money into his campaign, with cash flow likely to top $40 million before the primary.

Bass’s campaign received about $466,000 in contributions during the April 24-May 21 filing period and spent about $1.75 million.

Caruso raised about $145,000 in contributions and spent about $12 million over the same period. The new filings (along with an additional 24-hour contribution report just after the May 21 deadline) reveal that Caruso has now poured $37.5 million of his own money into his campaign.

Member of the board Kevin de Leon received about $156,000 in dues and spent about $775,000. He also received more than $100,000 in matching funds from the city during the same period.

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  • Who runs the city? It’s still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as Indian Ambassador remains in limbo, but Gil and Sukey Garcetti are on the case.
  • The latest approvals from the mayor: Mazel tov in Bass over endorsements from a large group of Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Sharon Brousformer representatives. Howard Berman, Mel Levine and Henry Waxman and former LA City Councilwoman Roz Wyman. Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovitch approved Mel Wilson. Caruso has been endorsed by the Central City Association and reality TV moguls Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner.
  • And other mentions of the city: Korea Daily and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99-Education Workers United endorsed Tim McCosker in CD 15. Los Angeles County Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project Approved Greg Good in CD 11.

(If you have a recommendation you want to flag for next week, please send it to us.)

  • Digging of the week: “It’s bizarre that Caruso is spending tens of millions of dollars persuading Angelenos to vote for him while largely ignoring one of the most pressing challenges facing the city.” — Times Energy Reporter Samy Rothwriting in his climate newsletter about Caruso’s lack of a climate action plan.
  • On the agenda for next week: Monday is Memorial Day. The Woodland Hills Warner Center Ward Council is hosting a Zoom forum with candidates for the LAUSD District 4 Board of Directors seat on Tuesday evening.

Staying in touch

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