The LA mayoral race is heating up with a focus on the city’s diseases

For much of the past year, the race to become Los Angeles’ next mayor has been a sleepy affair that has barely garnered voters and drowned in a quicksotic state recall.

That all changed this week, with a number of candidates revealing – either directly or via surrogates – that they were taking part in the increasingly crowded race to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti. The most prominent name yet is the American rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), whose supporters on Friday confirmed she intends to run for office.

Voters now have a much clearer picture of next year’s competition to replace Garcetti, which faces time constraints. And the candidates will soon have to explain in detail how they will confront the many problems the city faces, including a homelessness crisis that overshadows almost every other issue.

Rep.  Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) speaks at Capitol Hill in Washington in 2020.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) speaks at Capitol Hill in Washington in 2020.

(Greg Nash / Associated Press)

Over the next eight months, candidates will need to reveal their views on how large the Los Angeles Police Department should be and whether its responsibilities should be scaled down to reduce the potential for fatal interactions with the public; how to make housing more affordable as rents and housing prices push up; and what solutions once and for all will get people off the streets.

Voters could elect a mayor who pulls the city – already dominated by Democrats – politically further to the left. Or they could find someone closer to the center.

Los Angeles has not had an open mayoral election since 2013, when Garcetti, then councilor, triumphed over then-city controller Wendy Greuel. The city has changed politically since its politics and voters became more progressive.

The race currently includes City Atty. Mike Feuer and City Councilors Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino. Two business leaders, Jessica Lall and Mel Wilson, have also participated in the competition. All five are Democrats.

The arrival of the bass will “create chaos” among the candidates trying to find a path for themselves between different constituencies, said Jaime Regalado, Emeritus Professor of Political Science in Cal State Los Angeles. Bass has developed a national political profile while in Washington, and regularly appeared on news shows and was considered for a U.S. Senate seat and as President Biden’s running mate.

“She is a treasure of the left. She is not afraid to say her opinion. But she is also willing to work with the other side of the aisle, ”Regalado said.

The mayoral election in June 2022 is followed by a runoff between the two best voters in November 2022.

As the candidate pool grows, competition for different geographical regions, ethnic groups, and political factions has become more complex.

Councilor Kevin de León announced on Tuesday that he would run for mayor.

Councilor Kevin de León announced on Tuesday that he would run for mayor.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Bass, which is black, represents some of the city’s more predominantly black neighborhoods, but is also seen as popular on the liberal western side. De León, a fluent Spanish speaker, is Latino in a city that is half Latino, but is also known for its advocate of environmental issues.

Wilson, who is also black, has spent decades as a civic leader in the vocal San Fernando Valley, which makes up about 40% of the city’s population. Feuer, who is Jewish, is the only candidate elected in the entire city and secured his seat in 2013 and again four years later.

Lall, who is of Indian descent, highlights himself as a person with progressive values ​​who believes in “practical solutions”. And Buscaino addressed the issue of homelessness early and often, arguing that voters are tired of pilot programs and lengthy surveys – and want to see action.

“I think we’re at a crossroads,” said Michael Trujillo, a Buscaino campaign adviser. “Do we want a city that works well and builds on the quality of life for Angelenos, or do we want to walk down a path that lets Burning Man appear on our city streets every night?”

Still unknown is whether property developer Rick Caruso, known for Grove and Americana in Brand malls, will participate in the race and possibly pull centrist and more conservative voices away from Buscaino. Formerly LA Unified Schools Supt. Austin Beutner, who has been popular with business leaders, has also investigated a mayoral bid.

Councilor Joe Buscaino, right, is visiting Watts along with then-Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in 2020.

Councilor Joe Buscaino, right, is visiting Watts along with then-Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in 2020.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Surveys show that homelessness is currently still at the top among voters. Thousands of beds have been opened in new shelters, small homes and other facilities over the past year, yet tents still speak for many of the city’s sidewalks and other public spaces.

Buscaino has already raised more than $ 1 million for a proposed voting measure to deal with homelessness. But other candidates have also waded into the subject.

De León regularly promotes its push for the construction of 25,000 units of homeless housing. Lall has argued that LA is setting up its own health department so it can deliver mental health and substance abuse. Feuer for his part recently urged officials to clear a camp on the Westside where two homeless men have been killed so far this year.

Voters are genuinely concerned about the city’s future, facing an increase in gun violence, a protracted homelessness crisis and struggling to jump back from the pandemic, Feuer said in an interview.

“This is going to be about a city in crisis, which is stepping in and taking responsibility and tackling the key issues in the city right away,” he said.

Lall struck a similar note.

“The soul of Los Angeles is at stake. I really believe in that, ”said Lall, who heads the downtown-based Central City Assn.

Despite public frustration, an expert expressed doubts that a “law and order” approach to homelessness would resonate on the campaign trail.

Any candidate who just promises to “clean up the streets” without offering other solutions will not succeed, said Tommy Newman, vice president of engagement and activation at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

“Even among your people who do not describe themselves as progressive, they know that chasing people from one corner to another is not a real solution,” said Newman, who has previously worked on city election campaigns.

In recent months, crime has not risen to the top of voter surveys. Nevertheless, some at City Hall have become concerned about this year’s crime figures.

Murders are rising by 42% this year compared to the same period in 2019 – the last full year before the pandemic. The number of shootings has seen a similar increase, coinciding with a decrease in the number of officers at the LAPD.

By Atty.  Mike Feuer at a press conference in August outside LAPD headquarters.

By Atty. Mike Feuer at a press conference in August outside LAPD headquarters.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Wilson, a real estate agent who has imprisoned voters in the valley and south Los Angeles, certainly argued against efforts to reduce LAPD spending.

“When I talk to people in Watts, no one wants to make the police defund,” the Northridge resident said.

If public safety addresses an issue, LA’s mayoral election could see parallels to the Democratic primary in New York. In that city, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer, won after running a campaign centrally focused on rising crime.

The top two candidates in the Democratic primary – Adams and former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia – were moderate.

Adams, who is black, won in color communities but lost in the affluent Manhattan neighborhood. The average median income for parish districts he won was $ 55,000, Bloomberg reported.

What originally began as a race for the city’s economy was primarily about crime — which played to Adams’ strength, said Lupé Todd-Medina, a New York political strategist who worked for Ray McGuire, a former banker who ran in the mayoral race.

“People are generally moderate. I think idealists are back, but in general most are in the middle, ”Todd-Medina said.

Courtni Pugh, De León’s strategist, said she was reluctant to make comparisons with the election in New York, as the city used a “ranked election” voting system. In Los Angeles, the city’s economic recovery and getting people back to work will dominate the discussion in the mayoral race, she said.

During its campaign launch on Tuesday, De León repeatedly highlighted his own experiences of poverty as the son of a single mother struggling to pay rent. Pugh predicted that socio-economic issues would resonate with voters, saying Los Angeles “is becoming a tale of two cities.”

Bass and De León, often portrayed as the most progressive in the growing pool of candidates, could find themselves squaring in the run-off in November 2022. Or one of them could face a more moderate rival.

In recent mayoral contests, it was clear early on which two candidates would likely come to the runoff, said political consultant Bill Carrick, who represents Lall. That is not the case this time, he said.

“It’s a much more open race than we’ve had before,” he said.

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