Los Angeles mayor's election: Fear of crime and homelessness
LOS ANGELES (AP), The race to be the next mayor in Los Angeles can be reduced to one question: Who is going to fix this mess?
Tourists still flock Hollywood's Walk of Fame. The palm trees are high along Sunset Boulevard. And the Los Angeles Rams are Super Bowl champs. In many ways, however, the nation's second-most populous city feels diminished.
Everyday, a growing homeless crisis is raging on the streets. Sometimes with fatal consequences. An increasing crime rate, highlighted by home invasions and smash and grab thefts at luxury shops, has led to a growing sense of civic disorder. Many streets and sidewalks are falling apart.
City Hall has been tainted by sexual harassment and corruption scandals. Many yearn for normalcy, two years after the outbreak of the pandemic. It is telling that a region once associated in stratospheric growth has lost population. This is partly due to frustrated residents who decide that a better future is elsewhere.
The question is whether LA could abandon its liberal moorings to embrace a candidate who places a strong emphasis upon public safety as voters begin to evaluate the candidates for Eric Garcetti's replacement. New York City is in similar circumstances. Last fall, voters elected ex-police Capt. Eric Adams was elected their mayor.
Raphael Sonenshein (executive director, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, California State University, Los Angeles) stated that "these big cities are all Democratic strongholds but they're far from monolithic." "This year, at least theoretically, has some open doors to candidates who are most critical of the system and political structure."
Last week was deadline for candidates to register for the race. The primary election is June 7. A runoff between the two top finishers would take place in November if no candidate wins a majority, which is likely considering there are more than twenty people in the race.
The race is currently non-partisan and there is no clear winner. However, all the top contenders are Democrats.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass might be the overwhelming favorite in a different year. She is a well-known figure in the party's progressive wings and was on President Joe Biden’s short list while he was looking for a vice president pick. Her election would be a landmark: She wants to be the city's first Black and female mayor after Tom Bradley. Bass needs to gain support from beyond her congressional district. She recently announced her plans to increase the number of police officers on the streets, acknowledging the uncertain times.
Billionaire Rick Caruso entered the race last week. He is a business-friendly political centrist who is known for his high-end shopping centers and has rearranged the contest to give voters a completely different choice. The former Republican, who has recently become a Democrat, is now running as an outsider and wants to increase the number of police officers by running with the ability to spend tens of million of his own money. He blames the people in office for allowing the city's problems to continue.
However, most voters don't know much about Caruso. There are many challenges that come with being a white billionaire living in a multi-cultural city with a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Forbes magazine puts his wealth at $4.3Billion. His campaign website describes him as the grandson and great-grandson of Italian immigrants. He is also a philanthropist with deep community connections who served on many government commissions, including the presidency of the city's Police Commission.
Caruso stated that residents are "scared" during a short interview with The Associated Press. They are fed up. Imagine running a small business, worrying about crime and having a homeless encampment right in front of you.
Other potential candidates include Joe Buscaino (city councilman), a former officer who is pushing for an expanded police force; Kevin de Leon (councilman), a former leader in the state Senate and the most prominent Latino candidate on the ballot in a municipality that is approximately half Hispanic; Mike Feuer, City Attorney, who has made gun violence prevention a priority.
There is a lot of anxiety about unsafe streets that has similarities to 1993 when LA voters elected Republican Richard Riordan as the leader of the city. This was after four white officers were acquitted for assaulting Rodney King, a Black motorist. This is also reminiscent of New York City's early 1990s when crime perceptions were high and helped to elect Rudy Giuliani as the Republican Mayor.
Los Angeles is a vastly different place than it was in Riordan's time. It is more Latino, less White, and more Democratic. Only 13% of voters are Republicans, while Democrats make up nearly 60%. Most of the rest of the independents lean Democratic.
The most pressing problem is homelessness. About 41,000 people live in cities, which is roughly the same number as North Miami Beach's population.
Two killings occurred in recent weeks. A 70-year-old woman died from being punched at a bus stop. Another victim was a graduate student who was working alone in a shop. Advocates were concerned that public outrage about the crimes could lead to more vulnerable people. They noted that those living on the streets are more likely victims than perpetrators.
Permanent housing is needed, but it isn't yet available. This should be paired with services for people with mental illness and chronic drug addiction, according to John Maceri, of People Concern, which is one of L.A.’s largest non-profits that serves the homeless.
A system that would allow these units to be built quickly and with accountability is also lacking. Maceri stated that people who live in temporary housing are still homeless.
Activists opposing plans to increase police force are already resisting proposals to do so.
Joel Kotkin is an urbanist and a presidential fellow at Urban Futures at Chapman University. He has lived in Los Angeles for over 40 years. One of the most persistent problems in the city is the decline of the middle class. It thrived for many decades, aided by unionized jobs in entertainment and aerospace.
He said that people came to the area, bought houses, raised families, and sent their children to public schools.
Many of these jobs have disappeared, leaving behind a so-called barbell economy that consists of both the well-to-do and the working classes.
Kotkin stated that "the whole middle section of Los Angeles, which was really the greatest thing about L.A.'s, has disappeared."