Things got heated between mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso as the U.S. representative and property developer discussed conflicting approaches to addressing crime and homelessness in Los Angeles during the second debate last Thursday evening.
Caruso opened the hour-long debate on Thursday, hosted by KNX News, by describing himself as a “pro-choice” Democrat. This was his effort at deflecting criticism that questions why he donated to anti-abortion politicians and identified as a Republican until as recently as 2019—a line of critique that has been a consistent strategy throughout Bass’ campaign.
When he was questioned about whether a commercial showing a clip sourced from a decade-old speech Bass made at a Church of Scientology event was a “cheap shot,” Caruso said it was about possessing the judgment to hold “one of the most important jobs in the United States.”
Bass said that in retrospect, she would not have gone and admitted knowing there was something off about the church. However, she added “Rick Caruso is running a desperate campaign with a Republican strategy to consistently attack me because he’s not doing well in the polls. He spent over $60 million trying to convince voters that I am somebody I’m not.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Caruso spent more than $62 million on the race compared to $6 million for Bass, and is projected to spend more than $20 million on television ads alone through the end of the campaign.
Caruso was pressed by a moderator after dodging a question about naming three things that the mayor of Los Angeles can’t do. The billionaire developer said he “can’t go there with you because I have built my career and my life being told what I can’t do,” before puffing about being able to build both The Grove and Palisades Village retail centers in spite of widespread critique.
Bass, after being asked the same question, listed control of the county’s health department, declaring a national state of emergency, and removing federal regulations around housing as three things out of mayoral control. She then accused Caruso of misleading voters by describing himself as a builder amid the city’s homelessness crisis because he hasn’t built affordable housing.
“Even though you’ve never been elected to office, unfortunately, you have been displaying some of the worst tendencies of what they say about elected officials,” Bass said to Caruso.
Caruso, who has made more than $4 billion off local real estate, was asked why he only began prioritizing affordable housing after announcing his candidacy for mayor.
“Because it’s the No. 1 job for the mayor,” Caruso said. “It hasn’t been my career. If I would’ve focused on housing, I would have been building housing. I build retail centers. That’s my job.” He added that he “didn’t see the Congresswoman (Bass) in any bill saying we’re going to build more housing in Los Angeles. She’s represented us for 20 years,”
Homelessness has increased by 1.7% in L.A. since 2020, and Los Angeles residents are eager to see a plan that works to solve an issue so many mayors have failed to meaningfully address in the past. Bass and Caruso reiterated their plans to address homelessness and described why their strategies will be the ones to succeed.
Caruso’s plan prioritizes building new shelter beds, while Bass sought more permanent supportive housing.
Bass called for a federal state of emergency on homelessness, with a “FEMA-like” response akin to that of dealing with a hurricane. “We have to address why they are unhoused, to begin with. If we don’t do that, they will be right back out on the street.”
Caruso feels their unsheltered status should be addressed before giving them the services they need, saying “you bring them inside, you give them care with dignity and humanity”. He then pointed to his record on both the Board of Water and Power Commissioners and the Board of Police Commissioners.
Both candidates were concerned about rising crime and hate incidents in Los Angeles, as well as the Los Angeles Police Department struggling to fill vacancies.
Bass made clear she disagreed with calls to “defund the police,” and Caruso blamed Mayor Eric Garcetti for the shrinking size of the police department. “We have 880 officers. We are short on the streets thanks to the leadership today.”
Caruso called to bring back community policing, for more visibility of officers, and for prosecutors to be tougher on crime.
“You also have to have zero-tolerance, and you have to hold people accountable for that crime,” Caruso said. “If it’s a misdemeanor, it has to be held accountable by our city attorney or our district attorney.”
Bass countered that a more comprehensive response was necessary, noting that adding patrols without a plan would lead to “going back to the past,” with pretextual stops that disproportionately target Black and brown communities.
“Not all communities want to see an increase in police presence,” Bass said. “That is not a solution in a lot of communities. A lot of communities want to see a serious investment in crime prevention and intervention strategies.”
Both Bass and Caruso also referenced their work with the Latino community, which makes up nearly 50% of Los Angeles. But when Bass insinuated that Caruso had paid for an endorsement by the Avance Democratic Club, a group whose mission is to build Latino political power, Caruso replied: “Oh, are you insulting Avance?”
“That is really a big move,” Caruso said. “The largest Latino Democratic club in the country was just insulted by you.”
Caruso claimed the difference between him and Bass was that he will “accept everybody and never insult any Angeleno.”
Bass then spotlighted Caruso’s attacks on her.
“Oh, you’ve insulted this Angeleno, consistently,” Bass said.
Recent polling shows Bass still holds a lead over Caruso, though the developer has closed the margins a bit in the last few weeks.
A third debate between the two general election candidates is set for this Tuesday, only five days after their most recent tête-à-tête. Tuesday’s debate will be at NBC 4 and Telemundo 52 studios in Universal City and televised by both stations.
City News Services contributed to this report.