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Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg, who worked on Riordan’s successful mayoral campaigns, agrees: “There’s not a high probability of a Republican being elected, but it’s possible.”
So can Caruso beat Villaraigosa? In a one-on-one race? “Absolutely not,” says Steinberg. “I think Caruso could eventually become a viable candidate, but he would have to be completely committed. It’s not something you can pull together in a few months. You can’t win an election with just TV and radio anymore. If he were serious about this, I would say he needs to start proposing business ideas that could have positive political effects down the line.”
The simple truth is that while Caruso has been floating the prospect of running for mayor for nearly five years, he hasn’t laid the basic political groundwork he needs for electoral success. His developments, his single greatest political advertisements, are mostly in affluent white areas. If he’s ever going to have any shot at becoming mayor, he needs to spread the wealth across the city. Not only is it too late for him to do that in this election cycle, says Steinberg, but if Caruso wants to run in four years, “he’s got to start planning now.”
Franklin Gilliam, dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs and an expert on racial and ethnic politics, agrees: “The Riordan model was to win large parts of the white vote, especially in the Valley, but also to pick up a nontrivial percentage of the black and Latino vote — at least 20 percent of each group.”
Assuming Caruso would have difficulty gaining headway against Villaraigosa in the Latino community, this would seemingly make the black vote that much more important. But, says Gilliam, “Caruso hasn’t been part of the move to redevelop South Los Angeles. And he hasn’t partnered with Magic Johnson, which should be a no-brainer for any developer looking to run for mayor of Los Angeles.
“Caruso may have made the calculation that they might not vote for him anyway, so he won’t even bother,” adds Gilliam. “But he’d be hard-pressed to win without at least some support from the African-American community.”
That doesn’t stand to change either, should Caruso run four years from now.
“You’ve got no shortage of rising political stars in the Latino community,” says Gilliam. “And in the African-American community, [State Assembly Speaker] Karen Bass is someone to watch out for. Things aren’t going to get any easier for Caruso.”
For his part, Caruso says he’s explored development options in South and East Los Angeles but that, for business reasons, he “just couldn’t make it work.” Like solar panels at the Americana, however, some things are more valuable than the bottom line. Especially considering that Caruso isn’t exactly starting on neutral ground with the black community.
It’s widely acknowledged that James Hahn lost to Villaraigosa back in 2005 in part because of his falling out with black voters, stemming from the way the decision to remove Bernard Parks as police chief was handled. Caruso, of course, was in charge of that decision and took his share of the heat. Several black leaders were on the threshold of organizing a protest against Caruso at the Grove in 2002. Not to mention a long-standing feud Caruso has had with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, after he allegedly called her a “bitch” during the negotiations to remove Parks.
Though Bratton’s performance as police chief would seem to redeem Caruso with regard to any political transgressions he may have made, City Councilman Parks is still prominent, and has vowed to actively campaign against Caruso should he ever run.
That, however, will only be an issue if Parks wins his own upcoming election against Mark Ridley-Thomas for county supervisor, says Gilliam. Mirroring Soboroff’s sentiment, Gilliam adds, “Right now, Caruso’s bigger problem is that I suspect he has low name-recognition among African-American voters.”
Caruso, though, insists his record speaks for itself in South and East L.A., and that the election is winnable should he choose to run. He maintains he’ll never undertake a development if the project isn’t viable, even if it might win him political favor.
“If I go in and build something that’s not right financially, the project will fail and it will discourage other investors from coming in. That won’t be doing these communities any favors. I think people in East L.A. and South L.A. know my work from the police commission. They’ve seen crime go down in their communities and will be willing to give me a chance.”
Villaraigosa certainly seems to be taking the Caruso threat seriously. Despite the overwhelming odds in the mayor’s favor and the fact that, as of now, he’s running unopposed, Villaraigosa has already raised more than $1.6 million for the upcoming election.