LOS ANGELES (AP) — With Los Angeles City Hall in turmoil, voters Tuesday have a stark choice in selecting their next mayor: a progressive Democratic congresswoman who could become the first Black woman to hold the job, or a billionaire Republican-turned-Democrat whose election would represent a turn to the political right for the liberal city of nearly 4 million.
The election has historical dimensions, coming as the City Council contends with a racism scandal that led to the ouster of its former president and calls for the resignation of two more members, an unabated homeless crisis, corruption probes and widespread concern with crime that has ranged from daytime robberies on city sidewalks to smash-and-grab thefts at luxury stores.
The favorite is U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, a former state Assembly leader who has the advantage of being a lifelong Democrat in a city where Republicans are almost invisible. She’s backed by President Joe Biden and the Democratic establishment and has been promising to use her skills as a coalition builder to heal a wounded city.
Developer Rick Caruso is campaigning on an abrupt change in direction, arguing that Bass and other longtime politicians are part of the problem that has led LA into multiple crises. He is promising to expand the police department to deal with rising crime rates and quickly get ubiquitous homeless encampments off the streets.
The winner will replace beleaguered Democrat Eric Garcetti, who will conclude two uneven terms with his nomination to become U.S. ambassador to India stalled in the Senate, apparently over sexual misconduct allegations against a former top Garcetti adviser.
A looming question is who will show up. Los Angeles voters are notoriously indifferent to the scrum of local politics, and turnout in midterm elections historically falls off steeply from presidential election years. Those casting votes are expected to tilt heavily Democratic, however, an advantage for Bass, who has held an edge in polls.
She’s counting on strong support from women, white liberals and Black voters. The backbone of Caruso’s coalition will include independents, the city’s sprinkle of Republicans and Latinos, while his campaign is attempting to lasso voters who turn out only sporadically, including in lower-income areas, and those who skipped the June primary.
The race has been shaped in large part by Caruso’s lavish spending — and his unavoidable advertising. City records show his campaign expenses have topped $100 million so far, most of it financed with his own money. Bass, with just a small fraction of that amount at her disposal, has said “it’s not the power of the money, it’s the power of the people.”
The election is testing whether voters in the heavily Democratic city are willing to turn away from their liberal tendencies and embrace an approach that would place a strong emphasis on public safety.
City Hall has been in Democratic hands for decades. Caruso’s candidacy shares some similarity to 1993, when LA voters turned to Republican Richard Riordan to lead the city in the aftermath of the deadly 1992 riots that erupted after four white police officers were acquitted of assault in the beating of Black motorist Rodney King.
The mayor’s race is among a list of competitive contests around the state where political loyalties are being tested by questions about the direction and effectiveness of California’s left-leaning government.