Rick Caruso fields attacks during first LA mayoral debate with 5 top candidates

Rep. Karen Bass, Councilmen Kevin de León, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Joe Buscaino and Rick Caruso square off in mayoral debate
LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Rick Caruso participated in his first mayoral debate Tuesday, with several of his opponents directing their attacks at the billionaire developer.

Caruso touted his career as a ''builder'' and "manager'' in the private sector, while using the evening to attack his opponents -- Rep. Karen Bass, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Councilmen Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino -- as "career politicians'' with "empty promises.''

After several similar shots at his opponents, Bass responded to Caruso, "Some people have dedicated their entire life to not making money but doing public service, and they shouldn't be denigrated for that.''

De León similarly responded to Caruso saying, "You and I are two very different individuals and I have a body of work that you can only dream of having,'' citing his career in the state Senate, where he was president pro tempore before becoming a Los Angeles councilman in 2020.

"During the last two years of (the) global pandemic, you were concerned with your rents at your mall and $14,000 nights at your hotel, while I was out there knocking on doors, giving vaccinations and (personal protective equipment) and hot meals to everyday Angelenos,'' De León said.

Feuer throughout the debate criticized Caruso's record as a developer, saying he opposed rent control measures and has not built any affordable or homeless housing.

"At the same time you were building luxury housing and opposing rent control, I was standing up for tenants being illegally evicted and making sure that we were combating slum housing and then working to improve and expand affordable housing ... actions speak louder than commercials,'' Feuer said.

Caruso responded, "I've been on the other side of the counter when I've tried to pull permits, and the city is so overregulated, there's no surprise why we don't have enough housing.''

Feuer also alleged that Caruso has a $100 million yacht registered in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes and asked if he planned on releasing his tax returns.

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Caruso responded that he would "release everything that I pay in taxes,'' including on the yacht, once all the other candidates on stage decide to release their tax returns.

The candidates showed some of their starkest differences when discussing crime in Los Angeles, which has seen a 53% rise in homicides between 2019 and 2021.

Feuer said he would propose a series of reforms and increase the Los Angeles Police Department by 500 officers to a 10,000-member force, while Buscaino, who was an LAPD officer for 15 years, and Caruso, who was the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission from 2001 to 2003, have released their plans to raise the number to 11,000.

Buscaino, who said Angelenos are seeing "chaos and mayhem,'' said he would put officers "in neighborhoods so that you see them, you feel safe, and when you call 9-1-1 they respond.''

De León took aim at plans to expand the Los Angeles Police Department, saying it would come with an added cost to Angelenos.

"If you're going to increase the budget for the LAPD, what they're not telling you is you have to raise taxes, a billion over the course of five years ... so you have to raise taxes on everyday Angelenos who have suffered greatly from the coronavirus pandemic,'' De León said.

"Or, you're going to have to cut to the bone when we talk about much-needed services for Angelenos, such as Meals on Wheels for senior citizens, after-school programs for children, as well as parks for every Angelenos.''

"That's the bottom line. You can't have it both ways, and I think what we need to do is we need to better utilize the resources that we have.''

If elected, De León and Bass both plan to bring the department to its currently budgeted level of 9,700 officers. As of Tuesday, the department has 9,426 sworn personnel and 2,684 civilian personnel.

Bass, D-Los Angeles, said she would have the department hire civilian employees to replace officers working desk jobs in order to put those officers in the field. De León said that the police department needs to utilize its existing resources in a more efficient way.

All candidates expressed a need for more homeless and affordable housing in the city, though numbers in their plans differed. Bass said she would house 15,000 people, along with the number already being housed, during her first year as mayor.

Along with working to streamline the permitting process for affordable housing so that affordable housing developers don't "have to wait in line next to somebody who is also building luxury housing,'' Bass said she would appoint a "chief'' responsible for addressing the homelessness and housing crisis to report to her. She also said she would use her connections in the state and federal governments to access additional resources for the city.

"I would access the resources that I have within the federal government and the state government, that housing chief would bring together all of the department heads, and we would make sure that this is the number one problem because it is a public health and public safety emergency and up until now it has not been addressed like that,'' she said.

Caruso said he would build 30,000 beds in his first year, and Buscaino called for 9,000 immediate shelter beds, along with a law banning encampments once enough shelter is built for the city's 44,000 unhoused residents.

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Feuer said he would call for an emergency response to the homelessness crisis as if it was a natural disaster, adding that there would be popup locations across Los Angeles where unhoused people can access services.

"No more shopping around the whole city (looking for services) for a person experiencing homelessness,'' he said.

De León, who said he experienced homelessness in his early 20s, spoke about what he has done since taking office in 2019, including building the largest tiny home village in the U.S. for people experiencing homelessness.

Tuesday's debate was hosted by the University of Southern California's Dornsife Center for the Political Future, the Los Angeles Times and Fox 11.

The primary will be held June 7, with the top two finishers meeting in a runoff Nov. 8.

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