In a tight race against Rep. Karen Bass, the real estate billionaire garnered 42 percent of the partially counted vote in Tuesday’s primary election after spending some $37.5 million of his own money to win the coveted political position.
Bass was slightly behind with 37 percent of the vote while third-place runner City Councilman Kevin de Leon garnered 7 percent and activist Gina Viola took in 5 percent.
Caruso, whose Los Angeles-area luxury shopping centers include The Grove with its fountains of water dancing to Frank Sinatra songs and a trolley car running down a brick road, and the Americana at Brand, with similar features, is going all out to take over the job from Eric Garcetti, who is termed out.
The 63-year-old real estate tycoon has promised that if he wins, he will put his real estate empire, which includes the upscale seaside Rosewood Miramar Hotel in Montecito, California, into a blind trust.
“This is an important moment in the history of our city,” said Caruso, at a large outdoor victory party organized Tuesday night at The Grove. “Angelenos feel unheard. They feel left out. They feel worried and hopeless.…I am confident we can change, and change will happen.”
Bass held her victory party at the W Hotel in Hollywood and was charged up in her speech that embraced the many activists who have worked to make her the next mayor. “We are seeing the voters make a clear choice. They want leadership who is battle tested, mission driven and will always fight for L.A.’s values,” she said. “The city will see that it is hard to defeat a people-powered campaign. It is hard to defeat passionate door knockers, no matter how much money is spent. And it is hard to defeat folks who are committed to a cause, not just a candidate.”
The two candidates come from very different economic backgrounds.
Caruso grew up in affluent Beverly Hills and his father, Henry, founded Dollar Rent a Car in 1966. Caruso went to one of the most expensive private high schools in the city, now called Harvard-Westlake School, graduated from the University of Southern California and got his law degree from Pepperdine University.
He has never run for political office during his long career as a real estate developer. But he was appointed to two city commissions.
At the age of 26, he was named by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to be a commissioner for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Later, he was appointed to the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and was eventually elected its president. He helped select William Bratton, former New York police commissioner, as the new Los Angeles police chief in 2002.
Caruso’s wealth, estimated by Forbes at $4.3 billion, helped him outspend Bass by almost tenfold. His TV, radio, online and newspaper ads were everywhere.
Bass, whose father was a postal carrier, graduated from California State University — Dominguez Hills. She started her career as an emergency room physician assistant and later pivoted to community activism in South Los Angeles, where the population is 60 percent Latine and 35 percent African American.
Tired of seeing the crack cocaine epidemic sweep through South L.A., the 68-year-old Bass started the Community Coalition in 1990 to tackle drugs, poverty, dismal healthcare and too many liquor stores in the neighborhood.
Her community activism led political leaders in 2003 to push her to run for the state Assembly, representing a large district that included South Los Angeles. Later, she became the first Black woman to become Assembly speaker.
After six years in the Assembly, she ran for Congress in 2011 and since then has represented the area south and west of downtown Los Angeles.
Bass was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times, former L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, John Legend, Steven Spielberg, Magic Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Caruso was endorsed by high-profile stars including celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, rap musician Snoop Dogg, actress and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian and Elon Musk.
The candidates will meet each other again in the Nov. 8 election. The main issues in the mayoral race have been homelessness and crime. The city of Los Angeles now has 42,000 people without homes camped out on the streets, under bridges and on sidewalks.
Caruso has made it clear that dealing with people without homes is his top priority and wants to declare a state of emergency to deal with it. He promises to build enough shelters to house 30,000 people without homes in 300 days. He has vowed to add 1,500 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department.
In an interview with WWD at his Grove shopping center in 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, and before he announced he would run, Caruso hinted at his priorities: “The LAPD is a very good department, and we need to quickly root out where there’s bad cops. But we need to help the communities hurting the most, the underprivileged communities. We need to invest in them and give them opportunity; they need to have better education and health care. I dedicated my time and resources to education in the Black and Latino communities. We need to do more than that. There shouldn’t be so much of a difference between being here and being 20 minutes away, it’s just not right. We just have to acknowledge it and figure out ways to have everyone working together.”
Bass is also deeply concerned about homelessness and promises to build a coalition to deal with the problem and house 15,000 people without homes by the end of her first year in office.
She wants to recruit at least 300 more people to bring the police force up to its authorized 9,700 officers. She believes civilians should take over more desk jobs, there should be more community building to reduce crime, officers should be better trained, and guns should be taken out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.