Good morning, and welcome to the second edition of L.A. on the Record — our new local elections newsletter. It’s Benjamin Oreskes and Julia Wick here anchoring the show, with an assist from David Zahniser.
Get the lowdown on L.A. politics
In this pivotal election year, we’ll break down the ballot and tell you why it matters in our L.A. on the Record newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Fontana News Room.
If you ask a voter in Los Angeles who some of these people running for mayor are, the likely refrain will be: I don’t know.
A poll The Times recently completed with the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed that only one of the candidates we asked about — the current front-runner, Rep. Karen Bass — was well-known enough for the majority of voters to render an opinion.
For each of the other candidates, more than 60% of likely voters said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.
The first televised debate of the race — a raucous affair that was frequently interrupted by protesters — likely didn’t move those numbers much. Spectrum News co-hosted the event with Loyola Marymount University and showed it exclusively to the cable company’s subscribers. (The full debate is now available to watch here.)
The lack of a free livestream frustrated Héctor Manuel Ramírez, an undecided voter and Chatsworth disability rights activist, who doesn’t have Spectrum and is trying to learn more about the candidates.
“I’m flooded by [Rick] Caruso advertisements,” Ramírez said, adding that he’d never heard of the developer. “I see him flooded everywhere — in my computer, on YouTube, on the news, on the radio. But I think that really doesn’t give me an opportunity to really know what he’s about” beyond the talking points.
Not everyone can blanket the airwaves like Caruso. So it presents the question: What are candidates doing to get better known and connect with voters across the city?
In a field of 27 candidates, there are arguably three groupings: the five or six front-runners, the second stringers hoping for a Pete Buttigieg-like ascendance to the main stage and, well, everybody else.
Even leading candidates like Kevin de León — a city councilman and former president of the state Senate — are contemplating how to get their message across.
De León campaign manager Courtni Pugh cautioned that it’s early in a still-developing race — and that her boss’ origin story as the son of a single, immigrant mother and ability to connect with working-class voters would eventually break through.
Uncertainty around the pandemic has made large in-person events difficult, she said, and the city’s size makes blanketing it with canvassers a tough task.
“I think it will likely be more phones and texting, and trying to figure out where it makes sense to actually canvas,” said Pugh, who managed De León’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2018.
Long-shot candidate and marketing executive Craig Greiwe is emblematic of that second tier of candidates: He has raised a not-insignificant sum of money and hired a veteran political advisor but remains largely outside the mainstream conversation.
Greiwe castigated the organizers of the debate this week for not including him and was critical of The Times for omitting him from our poll.
It’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg question: Are people like Greiwe not included in coverage and debates because they’re virtually unknown? Or are they virtually unknown because of “corruption and active censorship” that silences new ideas, as Greiwe charged in a recent Instagram video.
Greiwe, who insists that he’s a viable candidate for the city’s top job, has hosted dozens of smaller in-person events with voters across the city.
“People get to see each other and realize that they are not alone,” he said. “Their frustrations are shared. They also get to hear from other folks just like them, and make sure that I answered their questions.”
Alex Gruenenfelder, a leftist 20-year-old mayoral candidate, is running a fully grassroots campaign that would likely fall into the “everybody else” tier of candidates. Gruenenfelder, who held his own in a recent SEIU 2015 forum with veteran politicians, said his approach depends on driving word of mouth, particularly among voters disenchanted by the frontrunners.
STATE OF PLAY
— Signature search: De León became the first candidate in the mayor’s race to qualify for the June 7 ballot, with the city clerk’s office reporting that the Eastside Democrat submitted the required 500 valid voter signatures. Councilman Joe Buscaino and Caruso are now qualified as well.
— Shakeup in the Bass campaign: Bass’ campaign manager, Jamarah Hayner, has parted ways with the campaign less than four months before the primary. Hayner had been with the campaign since it launched in September and previously managed Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s 2020 campaign.
Meanwhile, Jenny Delwood — the executive vice president at Liberty Hill Foundation, a progressive nonprofit — is joining the campaign in an unspecified position. She starts work Monday.
— The March issue: Bass appears on the cover of this month’s Los Angeles magazine. At one point in the piece, Bass complains that she’s asked “ten times a day” for her opinion on efforts to “Defund the Police.”
“I’m on record — radio, TV, print, hundreds of times — saying that I don’t support Defund the Police,” she tells the magazine’s Kate Pickert. “It’s like I can’t fully be trusted unless I recite it several times a day.”
— The Hollywood primary: Bass will have a Zoom event next week with actress Tracee Ellis Ross and Emily’s List president Laphonza Butler. Host committee includes Cookie Parker and Future of Cities founder Donna Bojarsky.
Former ambassador Nicole Avant and her husband, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, hosted Caruso for an event Tuesday, with actress Laura Dern, power hotelier Jeff Klein and philanthropist Irena Medavoy among those attending. (Per the clap- and heart emoji-laden comments on Medavoy’s Instagram post, it appears Caruso has more than a few Hollywood society supporters.)
Caruso was at the home of United Talent Agency co-president Jay Sures on Wednesday night to give his pitch to an agent-heavy crowd.
And because this is hardly a one-industry town, De León has an event next month at the Brentwood home of affordable housing developer Tom Safran.
— Ethics rules: A campaign consultant for Councilman Paul Koretz, now running for city controller, told The Times that his client will return donations that were raised at a fundraiser hosted by a board member for the Department of Water and Power. The city’s ethics laws prohibit city commissioners from engaging in such types of fundraising.
And in non-campaign news …
— High housing costs: The 2016 bond measure known as Proposition HHH has been much maligned by mayoral candidates since the race took off. They’ve all lamented the high cost and slow pace of construction.
Our colleagues Ruben Vives and Doug Smith got an update from City Controller Ron Galperin — who is running now for state controller. They write that Galperin’s audit found most of the bonds remain unspent and a “wholly inadequate” number of housing units have been completed.
— Judicial curve ball: A Superior Court judge upended the City Council’s plans for bringing former Councilman Herb Wesson back to City Hall for the next 10 months. The judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Wesson from participating as a councilman until at least March 17, the next hearing on a lawsuit challenging his eligibility for the post.
THE PERILS OF WALKING IN L.A.
Jane Nguyen was in the middle of a Koreatown crosswalk, on her way to gather signatures for the “Healthy Streets LA” ballot measure, when a car crashed into her, knocking her to the pavement, where she hit her head.
“I can’t imagine any situation that is as ironic as getting hit by a car while I was trying to gather signatures to advocate for safer streets,” said Nguyen, who is the co-founder of volunteer homeless outreach organization Ktown for All and city controller candidate Kenneth Mejia’s campaign manager
Mejia — for whom Nguyen was also planning to gather signatures that same Saturday afternoon — rushed over and took her to the emergency room.
Speaking by phone on Wednesday, Nguyen said she was “still a little sore” but otherwise all right. The traumatic incident “strengthened my belief that the city of L.A. needs to do so much more to keep people safe,” she said.
The “Healthy Streets LA” campaign, which is backed by a coalition of climate, transportation and labor organizations, is one of six potential ballot initiatives that have filed papers to get on the November ballot.
The measure would require the city to add the bus, bike and pedestrian improvements promised in the city’s Mobility Plan 2035 (which was approved by council seven years ago) when streets are repaved.
“What we’re trying to do is force the city to implement its own plan,” Healthy Streets LA field director John Ma said.
Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Fontana News Room
Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.
- Who’s currently running the city? Still Eric Garcetti — and don’t expect moving vans at Getty House anytime soon. Garcetti told Fox 11 that he likely will not leave for India until at least April. (His ambassadorship still needs U.S. Senate confirmation.)
- The latest in endorsements: The politically influential Los Angeles Police Protective League announced its endorsement of Caruso on Thursday. It is known for writing big checks to candidates they back. Bass picked up support from the Parenthood Advocacy Project Los Angeles County Action Fund.
- On the docket for next week: The San Pedro Democratic Forum and the Muslim Democratic Club of Southern California are hosting a mayoral candidate forum on Sunday at noon. Bass, Buscaino, City Atty. Mike Feuer and De León are slated to show. Three candidates running against Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (but not him) will be there too. More information here.
- Karen responds to ‘Karen’ protester: During Tuesday’s debate one of the protesters repeatedly screamed “Karen, stop being a Karen” while decrying Bass’ policing plans. We asked Bass how she felt about those comments. “’Karen’ describes a white woman who abuses her status and calls the police on innocent Black people. I am a Black woman,” Bass told The Times in a statement.
- What fuels Rick Caruso: “If I say to Charlie, ‘my God, Charlie, the landscaping looks so terrific today,’ he’s beaming. That is what this city is about, right? That’s what fuels me and that’s who I enjoy being around and want to succeed.” — Rick Caruso talking about his longtime landscaper on Fox 11’s “The Issue Is” with Elex Michaelson.
That’s it for this week! Send your questions, comments and gossip to LAontheRecord@latimes.com. Did a friend forward you this email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Saturday morning.