LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles top mayoral candidates shared the stage on Feb. 22 in the first debate of the 2022 election at Loyola Marymount University, with U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, former Metro Transportation Authority board member Mel Wilson, and LA City Councilmembers Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino going head-to-head on some key issues plaguing the city, such as homelessness and rising crime.
Real estate mogul Rick Caruso, who officially joined the race last week, was not in attendance due to a scheduling conflict, according to a Caruso campaign spokesperson.
The candidates took a few shots at Caruso in his absence, with Feuer pointing to sexual assaults reported by women at USC while Caruso was on the Board of Trustees. Buscaino accused Caruso of being anti-union after donating to a 2005 ballot proposition that, if passed, would have prohibited unions from spending their membership payouts on political campaigns.
“If he couldn’t keep the women at USC safe, how is he going to keep the women in the city of Los Angeles safe?” Feuer said. “I’ve been in my office, and we prosecute sexual assault cases.”
Caruso’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
The hour-long debate quickly sparked some heated outbursts—mostly at Buscaino and de León over their plans to expand the Los Angeles Police Department and remove homeless encampments—which Buscaino blamed on members from the city’s Democratic Socialists of America clique.
“This same group of folks protested at my home while I was connecting people to services in my district. … These folks are not compassionate,” Buscaino said.
A handful of attendees were removed from the event after one rushed the stage before being ejected.
All five mayoral candidates condemned the disruption and called for tolerance of opposing views among Angelenos.
The size of LA, de Leon said, “also means a diversity of opinion” should be accepted. “But this is where leadership matters. Because [those disrupting the debate are] not progressive,” he said.
Bass, who many closely watching the race say is almost guaranteed the top pick by voters in June, said such an outburst “is indicative of the discourse in our country right now.”
“This is one of the reasons why I decided not to run again [for U.S. Congress] and to come home, because I’ve been so concerned about the level of discourse here, right in Los Angeles,” she said.
Nonetheless, the candidates carried on discussing LA’s top issues of concern, including homelessness, public safety, COVID-19, and the local economy.
While most held relatively the same views, there were few outlying opinions.
Wilson, for one, was the only dissenting voice against mandating COVID-19 vaccines among city employees.
Additionally, all seemed to unite around similar policies on housing the city’s some 41,000 homeless. Buscaino, however, is the only candidate in favor of enforcing anti-camping ordinances in public spaces citywide.
The candidates did have some varying views on the city’s rising crime rates and the trend for police reforms in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
“The trends are not unique to Los Angeles,” Bass said. “This is happening all over the country, and I believe that we cannot use the uptick in crime to then say that we don’t need to have any reforms at all.”
Feuer said curbing crime is a nuanced issue.
“I do not think that anyone’s wealth should determine whether they stay in jail or not,” he said. “But I do think that for crimes like smash and grab burglaries and for organized retail theft, that there shouldn’t be what we currently have in place, which is a zero bail policy.”
Wilson, who is now a realtor, said LA neighborhoods need to “have more patrol officers in their communities, working with the community [and] setting up community policing plans.”
Buscaino blamed the city’s district attorney, George Gascón, for “not prosecuting crimes” in the wake of his policing reform procedures.
“We elect our district attorney for one purpose, to prosecute crimes, but he’s coddling the criminals,” he said.
Gascón’s office didn’t return a request for comment.
There are 27 candidates in the bid to replace Eric Garcetti, who will be termed out in December, but the top two candidates chosen during the June primaries will face off in the November general election.
The next debate is on Feb. 27 at the San Pedro Warner Grand Theatre.