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Many Already Displeased With L.A. Mayoral Candidate Selection

With nine months left until the election, there are only two major political figures in the running for Los Angeles mayor. Some residents are displeased by the lack of diversity and others want fewer ties to city hall.

(TNS) — Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas took much of City Hall by surprise last week, revealing that after months of speculation, he had closed the door on a bid for mayor.

The announcement served as a potent reminder that the candidate pool in the June 2022 election remains remarkably thin. With the primary about nine months away, City Atty. Mike Feuer and Councilman Joe Buscaino are still the only major political figures currently running to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Now, some in the city have begun voicing their dissatisfaction with those choices, saying they want more female candidates, more racial and ethnic diversity and even more excitement. In some instances, they're seeking a candidate who is further to the left. In others, they want someone with fewer ties to City Hall.

"We need more fresh faces," said Erick Huerta, a community activist who lives in Boyle Heights. Huerta, who is in his mid-30s, said he's hoping for a candidate who's closer to his age and doesn't have the same "policy narrative" as a career politician.

In recent weeks, many of the calls to expand the candidate pool have come from supporters of U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who represents part of South Los Angeles and was in consideration last year for a vacant U.S. Senate seat and as a possible running mate for President Biden.

On social media, the California Black Women's Democratic Club has been calling for a Bass candidacy, describing her as a national leader with a track record of advancing social and economic justice.

Rick Taylor, an L.A.-based public affairs consultant, also wants Bass to enter the contest, saying he's heard from labor, business and other civic leaders who want a more diverse field — and are growing nervous that more people haven't jumped in.

"You look at this field, the rumored names are mainly all men and mainly city government types," he said. "There's no one who hasn't been part of the city family."

Political operatives from both parties are currently occupied with the Sept. 14 recall election facing Gov. Gavin Newsom. California Democratic Party chairman Rusty Hicks recently informed the party's grass-roots leaders that if they were working on anything other than fighting the recall, they were "doing it all wrong."

Still, the race for L.A. mayor could see some big moves in the coming weeks. Councilman Kevin de León and Council President Nury Martinez, who represent several heavily Latino neighborhoods, are seriously considering a run.

Jessica Lall, who heads the downtown business group Central City Assn. and is of Indian descent, has turned to political consultant Bill Carrick to advise her on a possible mayoral bid.

And real estate developer Rick Caruso, perhaps best known for construction of the Grove and Americana at Brand shopping malls, has a team of political advisors assessing the mood of L.A. voters. In an interview last week on Spectrum News 1, Caruso described Los Angeles as "a city in crisis" whose problems just might spur him to run.

Jay Sures, who lives in Brentwood and is a major Hollywood political donor, said he too is dissatisfied with the existing roster of candidates — and is hoping that Caruso will jump in.

Sures, co-president and managing director of United Talent Agency, said he recently had lunch with Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, who described his support for Bass. The conversation did not sway Sures, who says he believes a non-politician would be best suited for the job.

"Of all the names that I've heard, [Caruso's] the one guy who's really accomplished something many times over," he said.

Representatives of Katzenberg, a major fundraiser in local, state and national politics, either did not respond to inquiries from The Times or did not comment.

Meanwhile, on the city's Eastside, neighborhood volunteer Genny Guerrero said she is disappointed with the lack of top-tier Latino and Latina candidates — and hopes De León will jump in the race. City Hall should reflect the city's large Latino community, said Guerrero, who lives in El Sereno.

"I don't want to be exclusive, but it would be great to have a Latino mayor," she said.

Representatives of De León, Martinez and Caruso would not say when they will announce a decision. Zach Seidl, a spokesman for Bass, said his boss has been leading a delegation to Namibia and Angola, where she is highlighting U.S. trade opportunities on the African continent.

"She's not in a position to rule anything in or out," he said last week.

Of the two political figures already in the race, Buscaino is a former police officer from San Pedro who has recently emphasized his more aggressive stance toward removing homeless encampments. Feuer is a veteran elected official known for his battles with the gun and banking industries.

Bill Burton, a political consultant advising Buscaino, said he fully expects the field of candidates will grow. Karl Thurmond, who chairs Feuer's campaign, said the city attorney "welcomes a spirited debate among a broad and diverse array of candidates."

Thurmond said voters are looking for the best person to address the city's homelessness emergency, the global pandemic and other crises. "On that basis, Mike Feuer is clearly the best choice," he said.

If Bass does decide to enter the race, she would immediately jump to the front of the pack, said Paul Maslin, a pollster who recently surveyed Angelenos on their views of eight current or potential mayoral candidates. The poll showed that Bass would have two major pillars of support — Black voters and liberals on the Westside, particularly women, Maslin said in an interview.

In the survey, conducted by Maslin's firm between July 29 and Aug. 5, Bass drew support from 22 percent of respondents.

By comparison, the other potential candidates each drew 6 percent or less. "Not only do those candidates not emerge with any strong base, [but] when you look at their favorable ratings, nobody does great," Maslin said. "Some of them have negatives the size of their positives."

Maslin declined to name the person who paid for the poll, saying only that it was not Bass or any other politician. But he said the results offer a warning for Caruso, with nearly 6 out of 10 people saying they would not vote for a businessperson who lacked experience in elected office.

The survey also registered voter dissatisfaction in L.A., with 51 percent saying the city is on the wrong track and 93 percent describing homelessness as an extremely serious or very serious problem, he said.

Mel Wilson, a San Fernando Valley-based real estate agent who launched a bid for mayor last month, agreed that voters are unhappy with the city leadership. Wilson, who is Black and spent several years on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said he's the contender most capable of moving people off the streets, helping small businesses and expanding housing opportunities.

"If voters are looking for a candidate who represents L.A.'s diversity and has housing and business experience, then I am their guy," he said in a statement.

Caruso has also been heavily involved in local government, serving on city boards that oversee the Department of Water and Power and the Board of Police Commissioners. Asked about Maslin's survey, one Caruso advisor said politicians at every level of government, not just the city, are experiencing "a huge credibility gap."

Caruso "has experience in the public sector, but hasn't been part of the system that's led to unprecedented levels of homelessness, lack of affordable housing and declines in public safety," the advisor said.

It's not yet clear how welcoming L.A. voters would be to Caruso, a billionaire who at one point was a registered Republican. Last year, during an extraordinarily high turnout election, voters moved to the left in key city and county contests.

Political consultant Jasmyne Cannick said the current crop of candidates are not the progressive voices that L.A. needs. Cannick said she is hoping that Bass will enter the race.

"We are overdue for a female mayor," she said.

©2021 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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