Caruso Defends Wealth During Mayoral Debate, Embraces Being an ‘Outsider’

Caruso Defends Wealth During Mayoral Debate, Embraces Being an ‘Outsider’
Real estate developer Rick Caruso makes his first appearance to the Los Angeles Mayoral Debate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on March 22, 2022. (Screenshot via YouTube/Fox 11 Los Angeles)
Jamie Joseph
Updated:

LOS ANGELES—The top candidates to replace termed-out Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti debated March 22 with Elex Michaelson of FOX 11 and Erika D. Smith of the Los Angeles Times moderating.

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), real estate developer Rick Caruso, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, and LA Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Kevin de Leon—all Democrats—went head-to-head during the hour-long debate.

The top candidates to replace termed-out Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti debate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on March 22, 2022. (Screenshot via YouTube/Fox 11 Los Angeles)
The top candidates to replace termed-out Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti debate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on March 22, 2022. (Screenshot via YouTube/Fox 11 Los Angeles)

It was Caruso’s first appearance alongside the other candidates after announcing his run last month.

Bass is considered the current front-runner, but many Angelenos remain undecided in the race, according to polls.

Despite LA’s current lean to the left, the candidates were a contrast to many of its recent progressive policies as residents lament over homelessness, COVID-19 restrictions, and rising crime.

Like many Democrat-run cities nationwide, Los Angeles embraced police reforms that arose following the death of George Floyd in 2020. While the Los Angeles Police Department underwent a $150 million budget cut, those funds were reallocated in 2021.

The candidates said during last week’s debate—held on the campus of the University of Southern California—they uniformly support a 12 percent increase in the police department’s budget next year, excluding De Leon, who said he would leave it as is.

The debate focused primarily on homelessness and public safety after polls revealed residents list them as key concerns.

According to the last count in 2020, Los Angeles has a homeless population of about 41,000 people. Countywide, the estimate is 60,000.

During the pandemic, encampments grew as the city council relaxed codes that banned camping during specific hours so that people could shelter-in-place to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Buscaino, a former LAPD officer, said, if elected he would provide more resources for those with addiction or mental health issues and enforce laws preventing the homeless from camping in certain areas, which many activists see as punitive.

Bass countered Buscaino saying she doesn’t believe “criminalizing homelessness” is the way to address the problem.

But Buscaino argued his approach is more humane.

“Is it criminalizing poverty to make sure our streets and our sidewalks are clear and safe of encampments?” Buscaino asked. “Is it criminalizing poverty to allow people to sit in their filth, to sit in human waste? That’s not compassionate.”

As Caruso’s first appearance, candidates didn’t hold back from taking shots at him.

Caruso has never held public office. He served as the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission from 2001 until 2006, but is best known for his shopping mall developments such as The Grove in LA and the Americana at Brand in nearby Glendale.

He argued Los Angeles would be best suited if “an outsider” was elected mayor.

In response, Bass retorted that the others in the race “have dedicated their entire lives to public service,” prompting Caruso to say he thinks that is exactly the problem: “career politicians.”

At one point, De Leon—who was a California Assemblymember in the 45th district from 2006 to 2010 and president pro tempore of the California State Senate from 2014 to 2018—jabbed back.

“I have a body of work that you can only dream of having,” De Leon said. “I made California the largest economy on planet Earth to literally commit itself to clean and renewable energy.”

Bass, for her part, focused on her Washington D.C. experience and her various connections—including with President Joe Biden—to leverage her ability to unite both Republicans and Democrats.

Although her homeless plan is similar to the city’s current model, Bass, like Caruso said she would declare a local state of emergency on her first day elected.

Bass said she would ask both the state and federal government to send additional resources to “triage” housing and mental health support to the homeless.

Caruso said Bass’s and his other opponents’ ideas were too little too late.

My opponents have “[a]lot of great ideas,” Caruso said. “There’s a lot of empty promises versus what we have today.”

Caruso cited rising crime, more homelessness, and corruption at City Hall, which has made headlines in the last handful of years and has seen two councilmembers charged with federal crimes.

“Those are the issues, and the question is who can tackle those issues and change the system,” he said.

If elected, Caruso said he would remove the city council’s power over real estate developments approvals and all land use issues.

He argued none of the city’s current councilors, or other candidates, have the experience to make such decisions.

Feuer additionally took shots at Caruso’s yacht registered in the Cayman Islands and challenged him to release his tax returns for the last five years.

Caruso said he would release his tax returns if everyone on the debate stage did, too, saying he has paid his “fair share, plus.”

Feuer released his tax returns the following morning.

There are 27 candidates in the bid to replace 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.

Jamie is a California-based reporter covering issues in Los Angeles and state policies for The Epoch Times. In her free time, she enjoys reading nonfiction and thrillers, going to the beach, studying Christian theology, and writing poetry. You can always find Jamie writing breaking news with a cup of tea in hand.
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