DTLA Business Leader Jessica Lall Exits Mayor’s Race

CCA head cites fundraising challenges

In September, Jessica Lall launched an upstart bid to be the next mayor of Los Angeles. She described herself as “an outsider with insider experience” and sought to prove that a business executive could be victorious against a field of political veterans and lead a seismic change in City Hall.

On Tuesday, after more than four months of fundraising, attending community events and participating in endorsement panels and discussions, Lall, who is the president and CEO of the prominent Downtown lobbying and advocacy group the Central City Association, pulled the plug on her campaign.

In a three-minute video statement, Lall touted the tenets of her run, saying her campaign sought “to inspire women, mothers, south Asians and young people to recognize their power, own their voice, and participate boldly in their political process.”

Lall raised $404,000 from supporters in just over three months, according to financial disclosure statements filed with the City Ethics Commission. But in an interview with Los Angeles, she said the challenge of continuing to pull in cash presented too high a hurdle.

“I think we showed really strong numbers in the first reporting period,” she said in the interview. “But we were running against very well-established, institutional elected officials, and it started to make the ability to raise money very difficult.”

Although Lall, like other mayoral candidates, had the potential to ultimately qualify for more than $1 million in city matching funds, she was financially overshadowed by competitors. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass reported raising $1.98 million by Dec. 31. Councilmembers Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino had each pulled in about $1.2 million in anticipation of the June primary, and City Attorney Mike Feuer had raised $969,000.

Candidates this week have to file paperwork with the City Clerk to qualify for the ballot. Lall said she made the decision as the electoral landscape changed.

“I’m a believer in you don’t drag it out,” she said. “Over the last couple weeks it started to become clearer how difficult it will be. The field is still unclear. Caruso’s name is dangling out there.”

That is a reference, of course, to mall developer Rick Caruso, who continues to be the focus of speculation as to whether he will enter the race to succeed a termed-out Eric Garcetti. The billionaire who has long been active in civic affairs generated attention on Jan. 24 when he revealed that he had changed his party registration to Democrat. He has also hired a team of experienced campaign operatives.

If he enters, Caruso is expected to appeal to relatively conservative voters, and to those who want a CEO mindset in City Hall. Lall said leaving the race was not propelled by having to compete for votes with someone well-known for operating in business circles.

“We made the decision based on our campaign, not on what someone may do as a hypothetical,” she said.

Lall said she has not endorsed another mayoral candidate, but is open to talking with contenders.

Lall was a counter to the other four leading candidates—all longtime elected officials—currently in the race. The child of a father from New Delhi and a mom from Oklahoma, she was student body president at USC and worked for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. She ran the South Park Business Improvement District before taking over the CCA in 2017.

Lall had spent the last four months engaged in the grueling grind of running for citywide office while also helming the CCA and being the mother of a two-year-old. In addition to hours of fundraising calls, she appeared alongside other candidates at forums and endorsement meetings. Her chief strategist was Bill Carrick, who had previously guided winning mayoral campaigns for Garcetti, James Hahn and Richard Riordan.

She leaves the mayor’s race just a couple weeks after having introduced her blueprint to address homelessness, which remains a dominant issue for voters and candidates. Lall, who often talked of the mental illness and addiction issues faced by many people experiencing homelessness, had laid out a five-point plan, including creating a city Department of Homelessness. She had detailed a retinue of metrics to chronicle progress.

In recent weeks, political observers have speculated that Lall, who resides in the Westside’s District 11, may run for the area’s City Council seat. Incumbent Mike Bonin, who just survived an attempt to spark a recall election, recently announced that he will not seek a third term.

Lall said shifting to another campaign is not happening.

“I was in it for the mayor’s race, for a very clear set of ideals and visions, and at this moment I have no plans to run for any city election in this cycle,” she said. “Jumping from one race to another is not in my DNA.”

The mayoral election is June 7. If no candidate earns a majority of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a November runoff.

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