Mall developer Rick Caruso announced this evening that he will not run for mayor of L.A., saying it's “not the appropriate time” to step away from his business career.

Caruso's decision means the field is now set for the March 2013 primary, with Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel as the two frontrunners in endorsements and fundraising.

Caruso had been working behind the scenes to assemble a campaign team, and went so far as to check on TV ad rates for the month of November.

But this evening, in a short statement, Caruso said, “I love Los Angeles and believe in this city but it is not the appropriate time for me to step away from Caruso Affiliated.”

An immensely successful developer, Caruso has been casting about for something else to do lately.

Earlier this year, he seriously considered buying the L.A. Dodgers, but said he dropped out of that derby when it became clear that Frank McCourt would not sell the parking lots around Dodger Stadium.

Had he run for mayor, he was expected to be a harsh critic of City Hall and of its hostility to business. In a speech he gave last year, he criticized Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for taking free tickets to sporting events and suggested that city council members are stupid.

Caruso would have faced criticism for contributing to most of those officials as he sought approval for his developments. He is not well known to voters, and would have had to spend millions of his own money on a TV blitz to boost his profile.

As is customary, Greuel immediately issued a statement praising Caruso as “an exceptionally talented and hands-on business leader.” She also pitched herself as a fiscal watchdog and “the only candidate with real world experience in both large and small business.”

Also in the race are Councilwoman Jan Perry, former radio host Kevin James, and Emanuel Pleitez, a former mayoral aide.

No ritual praise for Caruso from Garcetti. Snub?

Update 2, Friday 3:15:  Whew. Garcetti comes through:

Rick Caruso has made a difference in Los Angeles through his businesses, his civic leadership — particularly at L.A.P.D. — and his philanthropy. While he isn't a candidate for Mayor, I know he will continue to be a leading voice for a better L.A. I wish him well and I look forward to working with him to move our city forward.

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