The top contenders, all Democrats, had been eager for their first chance to contrast their records with their newest, big-spending rival ahead of the June primary. But Caruso, leaning on his past experience as a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission who has proposed putting an additional 1,500 officers on the street, launched a series of attacks while arguing that an outsider would be best suited to handle the city’s problems.
The debate underscored how far the pendulum has swung in the debate over policing, even in a city viewed as a bastion of liberalism, with all the leading candidates having pledged to either maintain the current budget and size of the city’s police department ranks or to expand them, even though that has exposed them to criticism from the left.
When asked whether she felt safe walking around Los Angeles, Rep. Karen Bass — who has proposed hiring hundreds of civilians to fill desk jobs at the LAPD in order to put an additional 250 officers back on patrol — said she did but that she could not ignore the fears that voters have shared with her.
“I do understand that a lot of people around the city do not feel safe, and I respect that and we have to address that,” she said.
But Caruso’s ability to self-fund and saturate the airwaves with advertising — as he has already done — have injected an air of uncertainty into the race.
“There’s 63 years of career politicians on this stage,” Caruso said in Tuesday’s debate, co-hosted by the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, Fox 11 LA and the Los Angeles Times, where he appeared with Bass, City Attorney Mike Feuer and LA City Council members Joe Buscaino and Kevin de León.
“A lot of great ideas, none of which were implemented before they ran for office. So there’s a lot of empty promises versus what we have today: rising crime, more homeless on the streets, and we’ve got more corruption at City Hall. Those are the issues, and the question is who can tackle those issues and change the system,” said Caruso, who has built a real estate empire that includes shopping malls, luxury apartments and other commercial properties.
Visibly irritated, the other four candidates all demanded a chance to respond. Bass, who said she and Caruso are friends, chided him for denigrating “career politicians — people who have devoted their lives to public service.”
“The point is to bring our city together. Some people have dedicated their entire life to not making money but doing public service and they shouldn’t be denigrated for that,” Bass said.
De León, a former president pro tempore of the California state Senate, drew an audible gasp from the audience when he responded by telling Caruso: “I have a body of work that you can only dream of having.”
“I made California the largest economy on planet Earth to literally commit itself to clean and renewable energy,” de León said. “I made California a sanctuary state — we sued all the way to the US Supreme Court,” he said, adding that he had been “knocking doors, giving vaccinations and PPE equipment and hot meals to everyday Angelenos” during the pandemic, while claiming that Caruso had been looking out for himself.
Feuer and Buscaino argued that they have used their time in public service to shake up the system. They both targeted Caruso’s wealth, with Feuer jabbing Caruso for his ownership of a “$100 million yacht that is registered under the flag of the Cayman Islands.”
“I do have a nice boat and I do have a lot of nice things,” Caruso replied. “I started my company with one employee and I built it myself with a lot of great people. … I will release everything that I pay in taxes, and believe me, I pay my fair share, plus.”