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“It’s now a very close race. That’s exciting,” says Jay Sures, vice chairman of UTA, and a supporter of Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso.
He’s not kidding. Two new polls show a very tight race. According to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies’ poll released Oct. 2, among all registered voters, Caruso is behind opponent Karen Bass by only 3 percentage points, with 34 percent preferring Bass to 31 percent for Caruso, well within the margin of error. But the good news for Bass is that she leads by 15 points among likely voters, 46 percent to 31 percent.
A newer Southern California News Group poll, released Oct. 18, however, showed Caruso ahead of Bass, with a slight 3 percent lead, 39.8 percent to 36.8 percent.
As the Los Angeles mayor’s race enters its final stretch before the Nov. 8 election, The Hollywood Reporter checked in with Hollywood supporters of each candidate (both of whom are running as Democrats) to share their takes on the quest to lead the country’s second-largest city and the epicenter of the entertainment industry.
“It has become a very close race between two people who both care deeply about Los Angeles, but have very different visions on how to move this city forward,” says screenwriter and showrunner Jackie Schaffer, a Caruso supporter. “Angelenos know we need change. Now. My hope is that people take the time to use their vote to make sure their hopes and frustrations are finally heard.”
Since the June 7 primary — when Bass won 43 percent of the vote and Caruso drew 36 percent — there have also been major shake-ups and changes to the political landscape, the biggest being the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe V. Wade in late June.
Says Hannah Linkenhoker, chief engagement officer of entertainment law firm Johnson Shapiro Slewett & Kole, a Bass supporter: “Angelenos, like the rest of the country, know this is no time to compromise when it comes to electing champions of reproductive rights and justice, and they know the difference between Caruso and Bass on this issue.”
The difference includes Caruso’s documented donations in the past to candidates who opposed abortion and his former status as a registered Republican. However, supporters say that Caruso is in fact unequivocally pro-abortion rights. (Pressed by Planned Parenthood last May to apologize for his past donations, Caruso released a statement affirming he is “pro-choice” and pledging his support for a constitutional amendment to affirm abortion rights in California.)
“Rick is pro-choice. Full stop,” Sures says. “The overturning of Roe was a terrible decision. But the attempt of the Bass campaign to somehow tie that to Rick is outrageous. He believes in a woman’s right to choose and is crystal clear on his position.”
Another factor that could affect the race is the shocking L.A. City Council scandal, in which former Council President Nury Martinez, a Bass supporter, was secretly recorded making racist remarks to fellow council members Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, including using a Spanish term for monkey to refer to the toddler-age son of City Council Member Mike Bonin. Both mayoral candidates have vehemently decried the racist attacks, and neither side is sure which candidate may potentially benefit.
“I think the very sad and ugly racial attack on Mr. Bonin’s son and his family will give Karen a bump in the polls, as it will be a reminder that representation at the highest levels matter and that having someone in political office who looks like you or just simply values you and your community matters,” says Bass supporter and BronxWood Projects president Vanessa Spencer, a producer, writer and casting director. “This incident was very personal, as my youngest child and seven of her classmates were called monkeys by two brothers … at a very prestigious independent school here in Los Angeles. So, hearing this Black child referred to as a monkey, the literal translation for the word Ms. Martinez used, hit me like a bullet. Words matter, and words matter even more when you are a public servant.”
Despite the seismic changes that have occurred during the race, Hollywood supporters for both candidates seem as gung ho for their side as ever.
Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, president of The Gotham Group, counts Bass’s “authenticity, experience [and] consistency” as some of the many reasons she is supporting her.
“Those who support Rick perceive him to be more about anger — some very appropriate given the state of homelessness and crime,” she says. “As opposed to believing in Rick specifically.”
Schaffer strongly disagrees with that assessment. “I have seen Rick and [wife] Tina Caruso firsthand, for decades, do good work and lift people up. And then bring the resources they have earned into other communities in need and make sure they lift people up there as well,” she says. “Los Angeles needs a leader with clear, confident executive experience who can bring communities together and mobilize people to get things done. A visible mayor who is willing to take accountability and do what is best for all Angelenos — not just what is politically safe while looking ahead to the next office. Rick Caruso is all of these things.”
As the tenor of the race turns increasingly combative in its final weeks — that includes the candidates trading accusations about the other’s ties to USC — Spencer tells THR that she feels unease about how each campaign has been run.
“I think it has been a weak race from both candidates,” she says. “Very messy on Caruso’s side. Trashy ads run about ‘Who Karen is?’ The ads have tried to tie her to compromised local politicians, embroiled in scandals which had nothing to do with her. … Moreover, these ads prove that Rick has no body of work to stand on, so soiling Karen’s reputation and selling fantasies of pretty buildings and malls is all he has.” (The Caruso campaign has criticized Bass for accepting a full-tuition scholarship to USC, while Bass’s campaign has sought to call attention to the fact that Caruso served on USC’s board of trustees, which coincided with a sexual-abuse scandal at the university.)
“With regards to Karen,” continues Spencer, “I felt that she played too nice, not wanting to counter-punch Caruso’s dirty misleading ads. I hope that tactic resonated with voters, as her way to bring civility back into politics.”
To date, according to public records, Caruso, the billionaire mall developer behind The Grove and Palisades Village, has spent more than $62 million on his mostly self-funded campaign, while Bass has spent $6 million.
Spencer’s overall hope is that scandals and turmoil don’t combine to depress turnout in the election that will choose the 43rd mayor of the city of Los Angeles.
“I am no longer optimistic about elections, just look at the national polling for the midterms and the kinds of candidates that are running and leading in major races across this country,” she says. “Having said that, I have to hang on to hope that people care and understand the importance of participating in elections and to honor their right and responsibility to vote, as one person’s vote truly matters.”
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