Los Angeles mayoral election up in the air days after midterms

The difference between the two Democratic candidates is 0.5% with 60% of the votes counted

Businessman and billionaire Rick Caruso speaks to supporters at an election night event.
Businessman and billionaire Rick Caruso speaks to supporters at an election night event.DAVID MCNEW (AFP)

Four days after the midterm elections, the composition of the US Congress isn’t the only thing still up in the air. In Los Angeles – the second-biggest city in America – residents are still waiting for more than one million votes to be counted. It is still unknown who will be the next mayor of the Democratic stronghold.

Representative Karen Bass and businessman Rick Caruso are only separated by 0.5% – or 2,700 votes – in the runoff election for mayor. About 60% of the ballots have been counted as of Friday, November 11. Local election authorities have asked residents to be patient – they have warned that it could take weeks for the final results to be known.

“Hundreds of thousands of votes are yet to be counted… we’re cautiously optimistic that the results will come out in a few weeks,” reads a statement released by Caruso’s campaign. The millionaire land developer – a long-time contributor to the Democratic Party – has taken the political elites in Los Angeles by surprise by turning the second round of the mayoral election into one of the closest races in decades.

Caruso, 63, spent more than 100 million dollars of his personal fortune to finance his campaign. He has tapped into serious concerns that Angelinos have regarding homelessness and crime. Violent incidents have increased by 11% over the last two years.

A few months ago, Caruso was almost completely unknown among the electorate. Many political analysts assumed that Representative Karen Bass – also of the Democratic Party – would easily defeat him. Bass – who is the congresswoman for California’s 37th district – has long been the favorite to succeed incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is wrapping up three consecutive terms in office.

Should she win, Bass would become the second African American mayor in LA history, after Tom Bradley, who served from 1973 until 1993. A former social worker, she is currently trailing Caruso by a tiny margin in the runoff election, after beating him by seven points in the first round.

Vice President Kamala Harris with Los Angeles mayoral candidate Karen Bass (right) on Tuesday.
Vice President Kamala Harris with Los Angeles mayoral candidate Karen Bass (right) on Tuesday.ALLISON DINNER / POOL (EFE)

A few weeks ago, the alarms started sounding within the establishment of the Democratic Party. Prominent politicians – from Senator Bernie Sanders to Vice President Kamala Harris – were dispatched to campaign for Bass in the closing days of the campaign. Three weeks ago, Bass even joined President Biden at a rally in LA. This was done to salvage her candidacy as Caruso’s numbers picked up.

Despite all of this, only 25% of registered voters turned up at the polls on election day. There was a lack of enthusiasm among traditional Democratic voters, while Caruso appears to have picked up last-minute support from apolitical residents, who are fed up with the city’s decline.

Caruso has vowed to crack down on crime, reduce homeless camps and improve trash collection. A former Republican, he blames traditional Democratic politicians – who have run the city for 20 uninterrupted years – for allowing LA to fall into decay. He promises that, if he is elected, he will add 1,500 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Caruso built The Grove – one of LA’s most popular retail and entertainment complexes. He has held many of his rallies at this indoor/outdoor mall, which features marble finishing, private security and 24-hour cleaning crews. He has asked his supporters to imagine a cleaner, more orderly city, based on the project that he completed in 2002.

Throughout his campaign, Caruso had benefited from the endorsements of various celebrities. Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Chris Pratt, Gwyneth Paltrow and Elon Musk are just some of the big names to throw their support behind the political outsider. Not to say that Bass was abandoned by Hollywood: she received support and donations from Steven Spielberg, Ariana Grande, JJ Abrams, Jack Black and Magic Johnson, among others. None of this celebrity spectacle, however, increased voter turnout.

Caruso managed to eat away at Bass’s polling lead by linking her to the politically-toxic policies of establishment Democrats. During the municipal debates, he reminded voters that, of the three members of the LA City Council who were caught on tape making racist remarks about Africans Americans and Indigenous Latinos, all of them endorsed Bass before the scandal broke. Even though the congresswoman disowned the council members, voters were wary of her ties to what is perceived to be a corrupt and disconnected political establishment. It remains to be seen if they punished her at the ballot box.

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