Mall Mogul Rick Caruso Jumps In to the L.A. Mayor’s Race

Fellow candidates attack billionaire developer’s record

As Los Angeles first predicted months ago, real estate developer Rick Caruso formally entered L.A.’s mayoral race Friday afternoon.

Caruso stepped out of a GMC Yukon shortly before 4 p.m. and, accompanied by staffers, walked into the office of the City Clerk on Ramirez Street to fill out paperwork allowing him to begin the process of appearing on the June 7 ballot.

His candidacy instantly shakes up a race that has been dominated by a quartet of established politicians: City Attorney Mike Feuer, Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Kevin de León, and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, the current frontrunner in the race.

Caruso, who has never run for public office, immediately sought to distance himself from the seasoned politicians he faces.

“I believe in the L.A. dream,” Carusoa declared in a tweet—his third ever—shortly after 5 p.m., “and I know that we can end homelessness, crime, and corruption. But the politicians can’t.”

Caruso has long held political ambitions. He contemplated running for mayor in 2013, and though he assailed elected officials at the time, he never entered the race.

The developer of The Grove and Americana on Brand shopping malls has also long played a role in the civic infrastructure of the city, serving on the board of the Los Angeles Department Water and Power, and later on the Los Angeles Police Commission. He was outspoken after the murder of George Floyd, taking out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times and releasing a statement in which he declared, “Each of us can and should change the world one person at a time.”

His ambitions to run in 2022 have also been no secret. Last October, Los Angeles reported that he had retained prominent political consultant Ace Smith to shepherd a possible campaign. For months Angelenos have been receiving phone calls in which pollsters asked many questions about their feelings toward Caruso.

Most significantly, on Jan. 24 Caruso announced on Twitter that he had changed his voter registration from no party preference to Democrat. In a message that read like a stump speech, he said, “My kind of Democrat will bring businesses that create jobs to our city and not chase them away.”

Caruso’s immense wealth is expected to reshape the race. With less than four months until election day, observers expect him to spend millions of dollars of his own money to persuade Angelenos that he can bring a successful business mindset to City Hall.

Those dollars pose a challenge to the other candidates who rely on piecemeal campaign donations. By Dec. 31, according to disclosures filed with the City Ethics Commission, Bass had raised just under $2 million, while Buscaino and de León had each pulled in about $1.2 million. Feuer has raised $969,000.

While Caruso will try to bend the race to his vision, his opponents are already taking swings. Feuer held a Friday-morning Zoom press conference in which he ripped Caruso for scandals while was chair of the USC Board of Trustees and followed up with a press release, complete with footnotes, that referenced Caruso’s financial donations to Republican Congressional leaders.

Feuer called Caruso’s record at the university “atrocious,” adding, “Scandal after scandal has rocked this respected institution under Caruso’s leadership.”

Buscaino, a former police officer who has been running to the right of the other candidates—a lane Caruso is expected to target—sought to tie Caruso to progressive District Attorney George Gascón, who is currently the target of a recall attempt.

“Rick Caruso hosted an elite, star-studded fundraiser for District Attorney George Gascón,” Busciano charged. “ Mr. Caruso and his family donated thousands of dollars to the election campaign of George Gascón. Mr. Caruso may regret that now, but it’s too late.” Buscaino went on to assert that Gascón is “coddling criminals” and “making our streets unsafe.”

The crowded field makes it unlikely that any of the five candidates will win a majority of the vote in June. If no one eclipses 50 percent, the top two finishers will advance to a November runoff.

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