L.A. on the Record: The mayor’s race is 108 days out


Good morning, and welcome to the first edition of L.A. on the Record — our new local elections newsletter.

A poll released Thursday offered plenty of good news for U.S. Rep. Karen Bass — results showing her well ahead of the pack in the run-up to the June 7 mayoral election.

But the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, co-sponsored by The Times, also had some revealing numbers for two others in the race, both of them established politicians at City Hall: City Atty. Mike Feuer and City Councilman Joe Buscaino.

[Read the story: “Karen Bass takes early lead in L.A. mayor’s race, poll finds”]

Feuer and Buscaino were the first politicians to jump into the race, staking out positions early on public safety, homelessness and several other issues. Buscaino has spent a decade at City Hall, while Feuer — a former council member and state legislator — has held office for twice as long.

Yet the mayoral primary poll showed each man drawing support from just 4% of respondents, trailing not just Bass but also real estate developer Rick Caruso and City Councilman Kevin de León, who both polled at 8% among likely voters.

Fundraising numbers could also portend trouble. Caruso just unleashed a firehose of political ad spending. Bass hasn’t done that yet. But she had $1.6 million on hand at the end of last year, while De León had almost $1.2 million.

By comparison, Buscaino and Feuer each had a bit more than $500,000. Caruso has already purchased more than that amount in local TV ad time and is hitting some of the same themes struck by the two men.

Which raises the question: Are Feuer and Buscaino about to be crowded out?

Campaign consultants for both men strenuously objected to that idea. Both said, outside of Bass, the battle for a spot in the November runoff is effectively a statistical dead heat among De León, Caruso, Buscaino and Feuer, once the poll’s margin of error is factored in.

Each of the four is “not that well known to the majority of voters,” said John Shallman, a campaign strategist for Feuer.

“This race is for second, and we feel good,” he said.

Shallman pointed out that nearly three-quarters of likely voters said prior experience in public office was important to them, which he described as “great news for Mike Feuer” and bad for Caruso.

Buscaino campaign strategist Michael Trujillo sounded unconcerned about Caruso’s vast wealth, referring to the developer as the “poor man’s Michael Bloomberg,” the New York billionaire who entered the 2020 presidential race with great fanfare and quickly flamed out.

“Joe Buscaino is like Joe Biden — the blue-collar guy who will end up in first place at the end of this exercise,” Trujillo said.

(Failed presidential ambitions aside, Bloomberg did win the New York City mayor’s race three times.)

Even with her strong numbers, Bass remains a mystery to many voters. As The Times’ Benjamin Oreskes pointed out, 44% of likely voters said they do not know enough about her to have an opinion.

With the primary election still 108 days away, the largest group of likely voters polled remain undecided. A lot can happen before June.

STATE OF PLAY

Caruso’s mayoral campaign takes shape: The Grove developer gave his first interview to The Times as a candidate, launched a website and dropped a highly produced campaign video. The video’s parting words, “Rick Caruso can clean up L.A.,” certainly seem to harken to Richard Riordan’s 1993 “Tough enough to turn L.A. around” slogan.

Topline takeaways: Caruso wants 1,500 officers added at the LAPD and 30,000 interim-housing beds built within his first year.

Tough day for the YIMBY brand: Caruso told Variety’s Gene Maddaus that he had not heard of the term YIMBY, which is shorthand for the people pushing to ramp up housing production and eliminate restrictive residential zoning.

“I’m familiar with NIMBY, which is no,” he told the publication. “Is there a yes coming out?”

The developer told Variety that he will not be pushing for blanket upzoning in single-family neighborhoods, so he may have a ways to go before winning the YIMBY vote.

Bass votes by proxy while filing paperwork to run in L.A.: COVID-19 protocols in Congress — which allow House members to vote without actually being “present” — offer a clear benefit to politicians like Bass, who would otherwise have to choose between local campaigning or casting votes.

Red flags missed? Long before the FBI raided the offices of city lawyers, critics raised concerns about the City Attorney Office’s handling of a DWP billing lawsuit. The DWP scandal will likely continue to be an issue for the Feuer campaign.

A candidate for the activist left: Hours before last week’s filing deadline, community organizer Gina Viola jumped into the mayor’s race, prompting the Extremely Online activist group People’s City Council to declare that “the LA left” had found its candidate.

Viola jumped in after an array of activists, including Black Lives Matter-L.A. co-founder Melina Abdullah, voiced alarm over the rollout of Bass’ public safety plan, which calls for more hiring at the LAPD. Although Abdullah has not endorsed anyone, she encouraged her followers to follow Viola’s campaign messages and “courageous visions.”

And in non-campaign news…

A return to City Hall? Former City Council President Herb Wesson, who was termed out in 2020 and soundly defeated in his bid for county supervisor, may be on the brink of a comeback.

On Wednesday, Council President Nury Martinez recommended that Wesson return as a temporary voting representative for L.A.’s 10th District, since Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas is still suspended and fighting federal corruption charges.

Wesson, who held office at City Hall for 15 years, has been calling council members about the idea, and some community leaders have rallied around him. Supporters of Ridley-Thomas have questioned whether Martinez’s plan is legal, saying the better move would be to repeal his suspension.

A street for Chente: De León succeeded this week in renaming a street in Boyle Heights after the legendary Mexican ranchera singer Vicente Fernández. The council voted to rename one block of Bailey Street, located next to Mariachi Plaza, despite concerns from some in the neighborhood.

— Mayor Eric Garcetti was loudly booed at the Rams’ victory party. The source of the crowd’s discontent remains unclear, though perhaps they were underwhelmed by the indecipherable Rams takeover of the Hollywood sign.

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THE PATH TO JUNE

The next hurdle for the dozens of Angelenos running for local office? Actually getting their names on the ballot.

Candidates need to provide 500 valid voter signatures (1,000 if they don’t pay a fee) to qualify for the ballot in the June 7 primary. Which isn’t as simple as it sounds!

Signatures can be thrown out if the person isn’t registered to vote, doesn’t live in the city or the right district, or has an incomplete address, among other things.

Let’s rewind to 2020: Of the 51 people who filed paperwork to run for City Council or school board, 18 of them — more than 35% — did not make it past the signature-gathering process.

Candidates have until March 9 to turn in their signatures, but a word to the wise: The majority of people who flamed out in 2020 submitted their petitions on the last day, making it impossible for them to go back out and get additional signatures once they fell short.

The city clerk’s certified list of candidates is expected around March 19.

QUICK HITS

  • Who’s currently running the city? Still Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador of India awaits Senate confirmation.
  • The latest in endorsements: De León announced the backing of Rep. Jimmy Gomez, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago and several local AAPI leaders, including former California State Controller and state Treasurer John Chiang and state Sen. Richard Pan. Bass added Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to her list, along with Communications Workers of America Southern California Council, SEIU 721, which represents public sector employees, and SEIU 2015, which represents nursing and home care workers. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos pledged his support for Caruso via Facebook post.
  • Dig of the week: “Before you know it, Caruso will write a check to change his name to Joe Buscaino.” — Buscaino consultant Michael Trujillo, alluding to the fact that Caruso has taken several positions similar to Buscaino’s.
  • On the docket: Loyola Marymount University will host a mayoral debate Tuesday, with Bass, Buscaino, De León, Feuer and Mel Wilson all confirmed to attend.


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