LOS ANGELES — The race for Los Angeles mayor will head to a November runoff after no candidate secured at least 50% of the vote in Tuesday’s primary. Both Democratic frontrunners – Rep. Karen Bass and billionaire developer Rick Caruso – will move forward.
As of 10 p.m. PDT, Caruso held a 3-point lead over Bass, a win in itself against an established Los Angeles politician who was on President Joe Biden’s short list for vice president.
Both candidates will appear on the November ballot for the general election, where voters will also be tasked with deciding on a number of other races, including governor, Senate and House seats. The race could mark a turning point for the city, which boasts the second largest population in the country, and put its reputation as a progressive trendsetter at risk.
The winner will take over for Eric Garcetti, who was nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to India.
Caruso, a Republican-turned-Democrat, poured millions into the race, far surpassing fellow candidates. His advertisements, from cable TV to streaming services and YouTube, blanketed the L.A. region. He attracted voters with promises to be tougher on crime and attacks on the bureaucratic systems that he says are too slow to successfully alleviate the city’s homelessness crisis. His campaign to pivot from the path laid out by predecessors came at a moment when voters expressed growing dissatisfaction with the state of the city in numerous polls.
Bass, on the other hand, was the favorite of party’s progressive wing and garnered national headlines after helping lead on police reform policies in Congress after the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, which spurred widespread protests over racial justice and police brutality.
Throughout the day, people filed into polling locations across the city to cast their ballots. At a Goodwill center in Atwater Village, a neighborhood north of downtown, voters weighed the myriad of issues plaguing the city and the candidates who each promised solutions.
Randy Baer said he was still trying to decide on who to vote as he arrived to cast his ballot. He was torn between Bass and Caruso.
“I think I’m going to vote for Karen Bass,” he said. “I want it to go to a runoff. I’d rather have some more time to hear both of them.”
Caruso was endorsed by a number of high-profile celebrities, including Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian, and Elon Musk. But to Baer, such endorsements were words of caution, not selling points.
“I’m wary of an attraction to celebrity,” Baer said, adding the endorsements made sense in the city with a strong connection to celebrity culture, along with the film and music industry. “But you know, they’re all multimillionaires, or probably billionaires.”
Others came in knowing who they wanted to lead the city. Felix John Garcia, 52, said Caruso’s hardline stance on crime and homelessness won him over.
“It’s the platform that he runs with – law enforcement, especially now with rising crime, we need some,” Garcia said. “We need something done about homelessness.”
Caruso, who developed The Grove – a popular shopping and dining area in the city – along with other commercial properties, centered his campaign on bolstering the Los Angeles Police Department with more officers and blasting the bureaucracy that he says has moved too slowly to stop homelessness and create more housing and shelters. He aims to end street homelessness, would declare a state of emergency over the crisis and touted a goal to build 30,000 housing units in 300 days, many of which would be shelter beds.
Bass, 68, heralded her Los Angeles roots, working as a community organizer during the crack epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. She’d touted that record, noting she’d be the candidate best suited to lead the city in a moment of crisis.
If elected, Bass would become the first woman to hold the office and the second Black person.
She, too, received a number of endorsements, including from former NBA great Earvin “Magic” Johnson and The Los Angeles Times, which called her a battle-tested leader in a moment where politicians were seeking to pander to fear held by citizens.
Bass has promised a comprehensive approach to homelessness, working to house 15,000 by the end of her first year in office and end encampments that have spread across the city. Bass has touted a different approach to the city’s crime and policing, hoping to hire civilians and social workers to take on some of the calls that officers would typically respond to, something she says would free up officers to concentrate on violent crimes and other calls. Bass also touts more investment in youth programs and a variety of measures she says aims to tackle the cycle of violence and crime in the city.
Throughout the campaign, Caruso and Bass led the pack of 12 candidates by a landslide. City Councilman Kevin de León had trailed in a distant third, despite a flurry of political endorsements and his background as the former leader of the state Senate. He was the only major Latino candidate in a city that is almost 50% Hispanic.
At polling locations, some residents simply weren’t impressed by any of the candidates.
Oswaldo Tapia, a lifelong L.A. resident and first-generation Mexican-American, grew up a Democrat but found himself more aligned with the Republican party’s principles of minimal government and individual responsibility as he got older.
“You can’t force somebody to live a good life,” he said. “I see that the right teaches self responsibility, not too much government — because the government can’t fix everything.”
Tapia pointed to concerns of inflation, surging gas prices and higher costs at the grocery store and said he worries about providing for his family.
So instead of picking from the pack of contenders, Tapia decided to write in a candidate: himself. He said it was “my way of expressing my frustration.”