As he mulls mayoral run, Rick Caruso registers as a Democrat

Rick Caruso, the shopping mall magnate who is considering a run for mayor of heavily Democratic Los Angeles, said Monday he has changed his political affiliation from no party preference to Democrat.

Caruso dropped his longtime Republican affiliation in favor of no party preference when he previously considered running for mayor, the L.A. Daily News reported in 2012.

He has donated to Republicans and Democrats, including President George W. Bush and one of Caruso’s potential mayoral rivals, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). Today he sits on the board of the Ronald Regan Presidential Library Foundation.

In a city as blue as Los Angeles, this shift is the strongest sign yet of Caruso’s seriousness about running.

“I am registering as a Democrat so that I can stand firmly on the side of the fundamental values that we will all need to invoke and enforce to thwart the coming attacks on our democracy,” he wrote in a letter he posted on Twitter — a platform he joined over the weekend.

“What kind of Democrat will I be? I won’t be a typical Democrat, that’s for sure. I will be a pro-centrist, pro-jobs, pro-public safety Democrat.”

Last week, Caruso told The Times that he would be “making this final decision shortly” about entering the race.

Should Caruso decide to enter the 2022 mayoral race before the Feb. 12 filing deadline, his candidacy and the prospect of a self-funded campaign could disrupt a June 7 primary contest that includes Bass, City Councilmen Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino, City Atty. Mike Feuer and downtown business leader Jessica Lall among several dozen others.

In the run-up to the 2020 election, nearly 57% of voters in the city of Los Angeles were registered Democrats, according to the California secretary of state.

Bill Burton, a top strategist for Buscaino’s campaign, invoked in a tweet Caruso’s past support of Republicans, saying it “put women’s rights — guaranteed in Roe v Wade — in real peril.” A spokesman for Caruso said he supports abortion rights and the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Throughout the early 2000s, most of Caruso’s political donations at the national level went to Republicans, according to federal election records. That included giving $100,000 in 2004 to a re-election committee supporting then-President George W. Bush and $25,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2003 and again in 2006.

In advance of the 2008 election he supported Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s primary run for president, giving $2,300, along with Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s re-election to the Senate, donating $4,300.

He also began giving to Democratic candidates for Congress. He donated a total of $7,200 between 2008 and 2009 to former Rep. Xavier Becerra, who is now U.S. secretary for Health and Human Services, and a total of $5,800 to Bass in 2010 and 2011.

While his giving to Democrats at the federal level increased around this time, he gave $50,000 to a joint fundraising committee backing then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) in 2017. McCarthy is currently the House minority leader.

The letter Monday telegraphed as well where Caruso will stand on some of the issues that are sure to dominate the mayoral debate. Previously, the owner of the Grove and Americana at Brand shopping malls has sharply criticized Proposition 47, a 2014 ballot measure on criminal justice reform.

He hinted that he favored schools staying open and that addressing homelessness and public safety would be at the center of a campaign if he were to run.

“As a Democrat, I will prioritize the safety of our families — not hamstringing our police but helping them be better and more effective,” Caruso wrote.

“Most of all, this means managing homelessness as an unprecedented, city-threatening crisis, with both compassion and firmness that ensures that those who are following the rules are not disadvantaged by those who refuse to do so.”

In 2020, Caruso was appointed to a Trump-era task force about the COVID-19 economic recovery. He said in 2016 that under “no circumstances could I see myself supporting Trump,” adding a few months later that Donald Trump was not welcome at the Grove.

Bill Carrick, who previously worked for Mayor Eric Garcetti and now advises Lall, noted that Caruso, who Forbes estimates is worth $4.3 billion, had supported many Democrats, such as Mayor James Hahn and Gov. Gavin Newsom. As a result, he wasn’t shocked.

“We love converts though,” he said.

Times staff writer Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

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