Four L.A. Elections to Watch
The California primary elections on June 7 had a low voter turnout with only 21.6% of eligible voters statewide submitting ballots as of June 12. Even after every registered voter was mailed a vote-by-mail ballot, turnout is not expected to eclipse the 37.54% voter turnout in the 2018 state primary. Los Angeles County is reporting only 17% turnout so far. Official results will be certified by July 15.
While there were expected statewide primary victories by incumbents Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Los Angeles has some major races that will be noteworthy to watch unfold between now and the general election on November 8th.
The Journal spoke with several California-based political strategists who spoke on background for this story.
Los Angeles Mayor
Rick Caruso 155,929 40.53%
Karen Bass 149,104 38.76%
The Los Angeles mayoral race’s two finalists are expected to have an expensive and bruising battle for the top spot in the country’s second most populated city.
One strategist with over 15 years of experience running campaigns in California said that businessman Rick Caruso came into the race with some of the strongest momentum seen in decades.
He is a former commissioner of the Los Angeles Police Commission (2001-2006) and has the endorsement of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. There could be a sensitivity to police support that might be a liability for Caruso in more progressive circles. One strategist speculated that voters who support Caruso specifically for his strong support from the police were not going to vote for any other candidate in the primary. Though he has been a registered democrat for only about six months, Caruso’s donations to both Democrats and Republicans over the years will make Caruso appealing for more moderate and conservative voters in Los Angeles. He was a registered Republican as recently as 2019.
Caruso is a billionaire and the son of the late Henry Caruso, founder of Dollar Rent-A-Car. He has already loaned almost $40 million of his own $4 billion net worth to the campaign and can be expected to spread as much or more for the general election.
Financially, Caruso started his career well-positioned. He has spent decades at or near the top of the food chain of his real estate business, so he knows the day-to-day grind of running a major operation. He has been successful in a field where others have not been as successful: retail properties. His experience in real estate may be an asset in explaining to voters his plans to address Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis. Caruso’s entrepreneurial background might come off as a net positive against Bass as a “career politician.”
Celebrity endorsements for Caruso such as Snoop Dogg and Gwyneth Paltrow are factors not to be ignored, as their impact will be difficult for pollsters to pick up in their surveys between now and November.
U.S. Representative Karen Bass has been in Congress since 2011. Strategists expect Bass to “nationalize” the mayoral race by bringing in power hitters such as President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama. Expect Bass to consolidate the political apparatus in Los Angeles: labor groups, solid progressives and environmental advocates are expected to get behind her and do work on her behalf.
One of Bass’s perceived liabilities can be that she comes in as an establishment candidate (which doesn’t take much when the opponent is in his first ever election for public office). Her years in Congress will be used against her to imply that she will bring “more of the same” to Los Angeles as mayor. Bass’ thousands of votes in Congress are a trove of opportunities to be spun against her by the Caruso campaign. Conversely, Bass’ voting record on both Capitol Hill and as Speaker of the California Legislature is filled with votes on laws that will be alluring to a large block of progressive Los Angeles voters.
Strategists caution that Bass can’t make any missteps when going toe-to-toe with Caruso on crime and public safety. She already has a strong ally with an endorsement by Steve Soboroff, a member of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. The New York Times reported that Soboroff said to Bass at a recent lunch meeting at Factor’s Deli, “You remind me of a combination between Golda Meier and Margaret Thatcher.”
It is no surprise that Bass has the endorsement of many fellow Democrats from the U.S. House and Senate such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Representatives Ted Lieu and Adam Schiff. She also has endorsements from a significant number of state, city and county elected officials that she would no doubt have to collaborate with if elected Mayor.
Five keys to consider:
Low turnout may have benefitted Caruso. Expect to see endless drives to get Los Angelenos to vote this fall in the form of television and social media advertisements.
Crime and homelessness didn’t bring people to the polls.
Crime, policing and public safety are concerns for voters, but it still wasn’t enough to drive pre-pandemic numbers of voters to the polls. Expect much sparring over this.
Despite the high cost of the election, Los Angeles does not have a powerful mayoral system compared to other cities. Much of the power to get things done lies within the authority of the City Council.
To the average voter, it’s hard not to look at the City Council through a lens of corruption because of indictments over the last few years.
Both candidates will have to simplify their plans for addressing Los Angeles’ homeless crisis. It’s a complex issue that touches on mental health, drug treatment, a rising cost of living and policing a disturbing scene of encampments. Expect both candidates to find ways to meld a compassionate solution with a stern set of provisions to ensure safety.
Both candidates are making inroads in the Jewish community. This month, Caruso met with Chabad leaders and visited kosher businesses in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Bass has garnered the endorsement of several Rabbis and leaders of Jewish organizations, including Democrats for Israel Los Angeles.
Sheriff – Los Angeles County
Alex Villanueva 300,508 33.06%
Robert Luna 232,848 25.63%
It is a bad sign for any incumbent who does not get 50% of the vote in a primary. So despite his first place primary finish, Sheriff Alex Villanueva will have a lot of work to do to keep his post. His tenure has been riddled with scandals since being elected in 2018. He is expected to be in a runoff with Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna. Luna was first elected Chief in 2014 and has over 30 years of service in the LBPD. Expect to hear much more about this race to oversee the fourth largest police department in the United States (after NYPD, Chicago PD and LAPD).
Los Angeles County Board Of Supervisors – District 3
Robert Hertzberg 58,027 34.06%
Lindsey Horvath 42,098 24.71%
The race to replace the retiring Sheila Kuehl in the Board of Supervisors District 3 will be an interesting one. The newly-drawn District 3 stretches from Agoura Hills to Malibu, across the San Fernando Valley to Burbank, the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West Hollywood — consisting of approximately 2 million residents.
Strategists expect a lot of outside money coming in to fund both candidates and it is shaping up to be a Valley versus Westside battle.
State Senator Bob Hertzberg has been serving as the State Senate Majority Leader since 2018 and already represents a district that stretches from Northridge to Burbank. He has been in and out of public office since the 1990s, with a detour to private law practice in the early 2000s.
Lindsey Horvath is a member of the West Hollywood City Council and former mayor of West Hollywood who owns a marketing business.
Both Hertzberg and Horvath are respected by their current constituents and will have to make inroads in the other’s territory to win. The question is whether either candidate can resonate with the larger electorate further west of the 405.
Los Angeles City Council District 5
Katy Young Yaroslavsky 12,921 47.43%
Sam Yebri 8,656 31.78%
The Los Angeles City Council District 5 open seat is a legacy candidate race for an open seat.
Sam Yebri, a public office newcomer comes with the endorsement of former longtime westside U.S. Representative Henry Waxman. He is a first-generation Angeleno whose family fled Iran as a refugee when he was just a year old. Yebri co-founded a non-profit called 30 Years After that “works to engage immigrants and first generation Americans in civic life.” In addition to being an attorney who advocated for workers, tenants and labor rights, he has also served on the board of several non-profits.
Katy Young Yaroslavsky represents a kind of establishment position in Los Angeles politics. Her mother worked for Sheila Kuehl in the state legislature. Yaroslavsky herself later worked for Kuehl when she was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, serving as the senior policy advisor on the environment and the arts. Yaroslavsky’s father-in-law Zev has a deep legacy in southern California, having served on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for 20 years.
While Yaroslavsky’s name recognition comes as an advantage, expect Yebri to go all in to connect with voters. The district that stretches from Bel Air to Palms to parts of Hancock Park has an approximate population of 260,000 residents — small enough to make any community outreach by either candidate go a long way.