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Billionaire shopping mall magnate Rick Caruso enters LA mayor’s race

He joins an already crowded race that includes a congresswoman, two City Council members and the city attorney.

(CN) — The Los Angeles mayoral election was upended by the entry of billionaire shopping mall magnate Rick Caruso, who filed paperwork declaring his candidacy Friday afternoon — right at the filing deadline.

Caruso, 63, has long been rumored to be mulling a run for public office, often hiring high-priced political consultants, but his name has never before appeared on a ballot.

After making it official, he spoke to the media, saying, "I'm excited to be here.... I look forward to spending more time with you and having a longer conversation." He took no questions. One protester showed up to heckle Caruso. Dressed in a black sweatshirt reading "Police the Police," the man shouted repeatedly "We don't want a billionaire as mayor!"

Caruso comes from money — his father founded Dollar-Rent-a-Car and owned numerous car dealerships. At the tender age of 26, the Caruso became the youngest city commissioner in the history of LA when he was appointed to the Department and Water and Power board by then-Mayor Tom Bradley.

He became a police commissioner in 2001, and was later elected as that body's president, playing a role in firing Police Chief Bernard Parks and replacing him with Bill Bratton. He later served on the Coliseum Commission and as chairman of the board of trustees for the University of Southern California.

He will run as a moderate, pushing for a harder line on homelessness and crime. He will also portray himself as a political outsider.

"Los Angeles faces an existential crisis of homelessness, crime and corruption," Caruso said in a written statement posted to Twitter in January. "No one believes that the same group of politicians who allowed our city to become this unsafe, corrupt and cruel can solve any of the problems we face."

Other candidates attacked Caruso before he even entered the race.

"By any measure, Mr. Caruso does not reflect LA's values and fails on all counts," said City Attorney Mike Feuer in a statement.

His relationship with President Donald Trump is similarly hard to pin down. In an impromptu remark to a TMZ cameraman in 2016, he said he would consider banning Trump from the Grove, his flagship shopping mall in the heart of LA, as he had previously done with boxer Manny Pacquiao. But he later walked back that comment, telling The Hollywood Reporter,  “I was talking about his compassion and sensitivity to be able to represent everybody, and I still have that concern. But whether I agree with him or not doesn’t matter. We have to rally around him, and time will tell." Trump later made Caruso one of many members of an economic task force.

Curiously, Caruso and his wife also gave maximum contributions to George Gascón, the progressive district attorney, a sentencing reform advocate who's now the target of a recall effort. Caruso himself has been a critic of sentencing reform, telling Bloomberg last year: "We've emboldened the criminals. They get arrested and get let out. It sends a message there's no consequences."

Caruso joined the Democratic Party in January "so that I can stand firmly on the side of the fundamental values that we will all need to invoke and enforce to thwart the coming attacks on our democracy," he explained in a statement, a clear reference the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol. He added: " I will be a pro-centrist, pro-jobs, pro-public safety Democrat."

He hopes to follow in the footsteps of Richard Riordan, the moderate Republican millionaire who was elected mayor in 1993, amidst a skyrocketing crime rate and in the immediate wake of the 1992 riots. But Los Angeles is much changed in the last 30 years. Crime is a fraction of what was then, although shootings and homicides have risen dramatically over the last two years and even property crime is spiking this year. The share of the white and Black population is down; the share of the Latino and Asian population is up. Above all, the city is far more Democratic and far more progressive. In the 2020 primary, Bernie Sanders outpolled Joe Biden by about 11 points.

The primary for LA's mayoral election takes place in June. Assuming no candidate gets an outright majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff in November.

So far, the front-runner is Congresswoman Karen Bass. She raised more than $2 million in the last six months, far more than any other candidate. The longtime politician has high name recognition and a fairly wide political base, having represented parts of South and West Los Angeles, making her popular among both Black and Jewish voters — a coalition that once propelled Tom Bradley to victory.

Pundits consider City Councilman Kevin de Leon a strong candidate, with a solid base of support on the east side and in the Latino community. City Attorney Mike Feuer may be something of a long shot, hurt by disappointing fundraising totals and a scandal involving his office's response to the DWP billing debacle.

City Councilman Joe Buscaino represents the city's southernmost district, including the neighborhood of San Pedro, is running somewhat to the right of Bass and de Leon. He has pushed the City Council to take a more aggressive stance on homelessness and the cleanup of homeless encampments. Caruso's entry into the raise hurts Buscaino's candidacy most of all; both will be competing for the same pool of voters in order to make it into the runoff.

"I welcome Rick Caruso to the mayor’s race," Buscaino said in a written statement. "Mr. Caruso has made notable contributions to our city as a businessman. However, I think everybody in Los Angeles should be deeply concerned about Mr. Caruso’s commitment to public safety."

Buscaino also pointed out that Caruso has supported Gascón, whereas Buscaino has endorsed the recall of the embattled district attorney.

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