Update, June 18: Bass now has a 6.5-point lead over Caruso as additional ballots have been counted, matching her margin in the final pre-election poll. More below.
Democrats are sounding the alarm about Rick Caruso’s first-place finish in the race for Los Angeles mayor in Tuesday’s primary, as the billionaire mall developer heads to a runoff against Rep. Karen Bass.
Caruso, who has run on addressing homelessness and crime, took 42% of the vote, leading Bass by more than five percentage points. Votes are still being tallied and the margin could change, but the outcome is a setback for Bass, who was once the undisputed frontrunner in the race.
“Yesterday’s result should be a wake-up call for Democrats across Los Angeles,” said Morgan Miller, the chair of an independent committee supporting Bass, who warned that Caruso is likely to spend tens of millions of dollars of his own money to win the runoff. “He must be stopped in November, for the love of L.A.”
In an interview with Variety on Wednesday, Caruso said that his message is resonating with voters, and noted that he ran 10 points ahead of his showing in the last L.A. Times poll, which was conducted in the last week of May.
“People are tired of excuses,” said Caruso, who has spent nearly $40 million on his campaign. “They’re tired of these career politicians that continue to fail forward.”
Jeffrey Katzenberg, the veteran Hollywood mogul, played a key role in convincing Bass to enter the race last year, and has given $850,000 to the committee backing her campaign. In a statement issued Tuesday night, Katzenberg called Caruso a “Republican, billionaire, developer bully.” Caruso re-registered as a Democrat in January, after decades as a Republican and an independent.
“Rick Caruso is just another version of Donald Trump with no real plan or solution to homelessness and public safety,” Katzenberg said in the statement. “Karen Bass is a fearless leader who has the experience, the passion and the compassion our city needs.”
Bass’ team did not make her available for an interview with Variety. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, she said that voters should not expect to see the problem of the unhoused solved in four years.
“But what I’m hoping for at the end of four years is that Angelenos, housed and unhoused, see a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Caruso said that answer shows that “she is not the right person for the job.”
Both candidates have garnered support from the entertainment industry, with Katzenberg joining figures like Steven Spielberg, Ari Emanuel and Michael Eisner in support of Bass. Bass has also noted her role as Assembly speaker in creating the first version of California’s film and TV tax incentive.
But Caruso has also made significant inroads in the industry, with endorsements from Ted Sarandos, Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow. He said that industry figures want a mayor “who understands business.”
“It makes it very tough on businesses when you’ve got the crime problem we have and the homeless problem we have,” Caruso said. “It’s a sin that we’ve got other cities competing with us, and we’re losing business to Atlanta and other places because of all the incentives they have.”
Katzenberg has also supported a committee behind Robert Luna, the former Long Beach police chief, in his campaign to oust Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Update, June 18: Bass now leads with 42.9% of the vote, more than six points ahead of Caruso at 36.3%. Since June 9, when Caruso led Bass by five points, the county has added about 300,000 late-arriving mail ballots to the tally, doubling the total vote count. Bass won 49% of those ballots, while Caruso won only 30%. Ballots are still being counted, but the bulk of them have now been processed. Both are still headed to a November runoff, but Bass’ position is much stronger than it appeared right after election day.