The two candidates in the Los Angeles Mayoral race, real estate developer Rick Caruso and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), squared off in a debate Wednesday night in LA that focused largely on crime and homelessness.
While the debate was civil between the two candidates, both Bass and Caruso often got down to the nitty gritty on issues, bringing up past transgressions both decades old and recent. On crime, Caruso proudly noted his past, such as being a member and president of the LA police commission, and being uniquely qualified to help reduced crime throughout the city through his prior experience. Bass, meanwhile, piggybacked on Caruso’s public safety policies, such as being in favor of homeless camp removals and hiring more police officers despite many in her Congressional District fighting against the hiring of more police following the George Floyd protests two years ago.
Caruso in particular used recent incidents, such as Bass having two handguns stolen from her house, to show Bass’ wishy-washiness on crime. The Congresswoman was also taken aback on her own views of crime, saying earlier this year that she felt safe in her neighborhood, to to saying she felt much less safe on Wednesday.
“My sense of safety was shattered,” said Bass.
Caruso continued to press Bass on the incident, such as how she stored the guns and pointing out her in experience with dealing with crime prevention, only for Bass to sidestep the issue and not answer him, only brushing him off by saying “I think this is an act of desperation, Rick.”
Barbs were also exchanged over the recent USC scandals, where Bass is being accused by prosecutors and by Caruso of having received a $95,000 scholarship as a bribe, and Caruso for not releasing a report on sexual assault on campus while Chairman of the USC Board of Trustees.
“She got a degree taking less classes than other students took, and then worked with the dean to fashion legislation and pushed through Congress to have taxpayer dollars go back to that same school. She is named critical in a federal bribery corruption case,” said Caruso during the debate.
“I would say the victims of the gynecologist who sexually assaulted hundreds of students at USC have asked you to release the report. As chair of the Board of Trustees, he committed to doing an investigation, to do a report, then decided afterward not to release it,” countered Bass.
The homelessness issue
However, the largest issue of the night was clearly homelessness, with both candidates tying in the issue with crime and other major city issues such as unaffordable housing. Caruso’s plan on homelessness largely focused on shelters being the better solution for homelessness in the city with services for them being provided there, while Bass favored an approach of increasing services and permanent housing. Both candidates came out in favor of removing encampments, but otherwise, had different approaches to the issue.
“The system is broken. That’s why we have the problems we have today,” noted Caruso. “The system, quite frankly, is corrupt. And with all due respect to my opponent, she’s part of that system. At a certain point in time, you’re going to have to move encampments off the streets because our neighborhoods are so heavily impacted, and you’ll never get crime under control unless you deal with homelessness. Encampments are unfair to the community.
“Our city is in trouble and I want to help. Crime is dampening dreams, it continues to rise. Homelessness, the count continues to rise. People are scared, people are worried. Reach out to people, build trust, bring them in, give them the services they need.”
Bass responded by saying “What we have done for too long is we have put people in shelters. Now the shelters have become so dangerous, people don’t even want to be in the shelters and are choosing to be outside on the street. At the end of the day, you can’t criminalize poverty. If you have them in jail, they’d be there for three days and then right back out on the street.”
Other issues that were briefly touched on included COVID-era eviction moratoriums in the city, Caruso’s developer roots, Bass’ Democratic history in the city, and Caruso’s party affiliation switches in the past.
“36 years ago, he was Republican. Then he became an independent. Then he became a Republican again then he became an independent, and then three weeks before filing, he became a Democrat,” said Bass at one point in the debate.
Political experts noted that both candidates had done a good job in the debate, but with many giving a slight edge to Caruso due to his harder-line stances on key issues.
“Right now, people don’t want a softly-softly approach,” noted Jan Ives, a Washington-based local election analyst, in a Globe interview on Thursday. “And Caruso gave harder lines on crime and homelessness. Bass had her sharper points too, like pledging to increase the number of LAPD officers and clearing encampments, but they were clearly ‘follow the leader’ on Caruso. Bass was up there as a seasoned pro, but what she said often came off as scripted, like her point on Caruso switching parties. You can tell she rehearsed the hell out of that. Caruso was a bit more raw, and it worked out well in his favor. He had more human moments as a result.”
“Caruso is down in the polls right now. Significantly too. But between this, the guns incident, and the growing USC scandal, Caruso is getting a lot of good cards for his hand after getting nothing for a few months there. I think the Bass campaign is worried, even if they aren’t saying it.”
Polls following both candidates performance in the debate are expected in the next few weeks.
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