Rick Caruso, who’s in a tight race with U.S. Rep. Karen Bass to be Los Angeles’ next mayor, rejected the idea that he’s a “con” given his pre-campaign switch to the Democratic Party and $100 million spend on his campaign.
Instead, the billionaire developer called out the “divisive” language of L.A. Democrats like the recently resigned council president Nury Martinez and questioned Bass’ ability to lead. “Unfortunately, she needs to learn how to act like a mayor,” Caruso said in an interview with TheWrap. “Leadership requires character, integrity and humanity in how you treat and talk about other people.”
Caruso appeared to be lumping Bass in with Martinez and two other council members recently caught on tape using racist language to describe other politicians in the city. “We’ve had enough bad talking in the city. We’ve seen vile language come from three council members recently,” Caruso said. “Using words like that are divisive, and there’s no place for it in the mayor’s office.”
Caruso largely sidestepped his late party switch from longtime Republican to Democrat — which Bass has made a central argument against his candidacy. “The ‘con’ part of it is trying to create a new image of who he is, as a Democrat, just because he registered as a Democrat three weeks before starting his campaign,” Bass said in an interview with TheWrap last week.
With final balloting ahead on Tuesday, Caruso has closed in on U.S. Rep. Karen Bass’ lead, with the race now in a dead heat, according to at least one recent poll.
In his interview, Caruso also addressed his approach to other issues facing the city, including homelessness, policing, affordability issues and support for the entertainment industry.
What are your plans to tackle the city’s homelessness problem?
That is the No. 1 problem. Our leadership has just done a terrible job of managing it, and frankly that includes Karen. It’s actually gone up 80% since she’s been in office. We have to build more housing and shelters. It’s very clear that some programs are working, even down on Skid Row. They just need to be scaled up. But it starts with treating people with dignity and compassion, and meeting them where they are, without judgment.
How would you create more affordable housing?
We need high-density housing in the right areas of the city, so every Angelino has affordable housing. We have hard-working people in good jobs who still can’t afford to buy a home. We have to change the whole affordability equation in the city. I know how to do it. I’m a builder. I know how to streamline the permitting process to get things moving. There are one-bedroom modular homes available that come in at $60,000 per unit. Let’s use innovation and technology.
What do you think of the “United to House L.A.” ballot proposition, the so-called “Mansion Tax,” on the ballot?
I’m against it. The city has done a terrible job of managing and spending taxpayer dollars. We are one of the most highly taxed cities in the country, and there is so much waste, while there are so many needs. To say we’re going to create another tax without having accountability of where the money is currently going makes no sense to me. Let’s get our business in order. Maybe we revisit if we need money down the road. But I don’t think we do. We have a ton of capital. What’s been lacking is the will to make smart decisions.
What would you do with the capital?
A few years ago, we had Measure HHH. Everybody agreed to tax themselves a billion and a half dollars, to build 10,000 housing units in 10 years. Six years later, we have less than 1,000 units at an average cost of $700,000 dollars a unit. It’s insane that we’re going to add another tax when we can’t even manage the tax we imposed a few years ago. I want to do an audit, find out why there’s so much waste, and why there’s so much cost.
You’ve stated that you’re pro-police and would like to increase the number of officers. How would you do that?
Yes. The council in 2019 voted to defund the police. We’re now 880 officers short in the city of what is budgeted. Between defunding and the morale being so low, cops are leaving at a record pace. It’s one of the reasons why we have crime spiking out of control throughout the city. We need to have more officers and have them on the street. When I was president of the police commission in 2001, we did community policing. We had officers on the street. When officers are visible, crime goes down.
How do you plan to support the entertainment industry?
I’m a big fan of the entertainment industry and have been for decades. You have to bring more content being made back here in Los Angeles. We have to make the approval process more streamlined. We need to get more jobs above and also below the line. One of the challenges in Los Angeles for below-the-line workers is that it is very hard to be able to afford to live in L.A. That’s why I am focused on building more affordable housing, so people can actually live and work here.
How do you respond to your opponent, Rep. Karen Bass, recently calling you a “con” because of the money you’ve spent on your campaign and your recent switch to the Democratic Party.
Leadership requires character, integrity and humanity in how you treat and talk about other people. We’ve had enough bad talking in the city. We’ve seen vile language come from three council members recently. So, if she wants to be mayor, unfortunately she needs to learn how to act like a mayor. Because leadership does matter. Using words like that are divisive, and there’s no place for it in the mayor’s office.