Rick Caruso and Karen Bass
Rick Caruso and Karen Bass. File photos

Los Angeles mayoral candidates Rep. Karen Bass and developer Rick Caruso have contrasting ideas on how to address crime and homelessness in the city, and both landed attacks in their latest debate, which included a series of feisty exchanges.

The third debate between the two general election candidates for mayor of Los Angeles is set for Tuesday, five days after Bass and Caruso debated for the second time.

Caruso used his opening statement at the hourlong debate Thursday, hosted by KNX News at its Miracle Mile studio, to describe himself as a “pro-choice” Democrat. It was an attempt to fend off critiques over why he was a Republican until 2019 and donated to anti-abortion politicians, which has been a constant strategy of Bass’ campaign.

When asked about whether a commercial showing a clip from a decade-old speech Bass made at a Church of Scientology event was a “cheap shot,” Caruso said it was about possessing the judgment to hold “one of the most important jobs in the United States.”

“Rick Caruso is running a desperate campaign with a Republican strategy to consistently attack me, because he’s not doing well in the polls,” Bass said in response. “He spent over $60 million trying to convince voters that I am somebody I’m not.”

Caruso has spent more than $62 million on the race compared to $6 million for Bass, and is expected to spend more than $20 million on television ads alone through the end of the campaign, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Caruso dodged a question about naming three things that the mayor of Los Angeles can’t do. When pressed by a moderator, the billionaire developer said he “can’t go there with you because I have built my career and my life being told what I can’t do,” before touting how he overcame critics to build both The Grove and Palisades Village retail centers.

Bass, after listing control of the county’s health department, declaring a national state of emergency and removing federal regulations around housing as off-limits to the mayor, accused Caruso of misleading voters by describing himself as a builder amid the city’s homelessness crisis because he hasn’t built affordable housing.

“Even though you’ve never been elected to office, unfortunately you have been displaying some of the worst tendencies of what they say about elected officials,” Bass said to Caruso.

Caruso, who has made more than $4 billion off local real estate, was asked why he only began prioritizing affordable housing after announcing his candidacy for mayor.

“Because it’s the No. 1 job for the mayor,” Caruso said. “It hasn’t been my career. If I would’ve focused on housing, I would have been building housing. I build retail centers. That’s my job.”

The two candidates rehashed how they would address homelessness — up 1.7% in Los Angeles since 2020 — describing why their strategies would succeed when so many past mayors’ plans have failed.

Bass called for a federal state of emergency on homelessness, with a “FEMA-like” response akin to that of dealing with a hurricane. Caruso pointed to his record on both the Board of Water and Power Commissioners and Board of Police Commissioners.

Caruso’s plan prioritizes building new shelter beds, while Bass sought more permanent supportive housing.

Both candidates were concerned about rising crime and hate incidents in Los Angeles, as well as the Los Angeles Police Department struggling to fill vacancies.

Bass made clear she did not agree with calls to “defund the police,” and Caruso blamed Mayor Eric Garcetti for the dwindling size of the police department. The department was underemployed by 176 officers as of August, Chief Michel Moore told the Board of Police Commissioners.

Caruso called to bring back community policing, for more visibility of officers and for prosecutors to be tougher on crime.

“You also have to have zero-tolerance, and you have to hold people accountable for that crime,” Caruso said. “If it’s a misdemeanor, it has to be held accountable by our city attorney or our district attorney.”

Bass countered that a more comprehensive response was necessary, noting that adding patrols without a plan would lead to “going back to the past,” with pretextual stops that disproportionately target Black and brown communities.

“Not all communities want to see an increase in police presence,” Bass said. “That is not a solution in a lot of communities. A lot of communities want to see a serious investment in crime prevention and intervention strategies.”

Bass and Caruso also both noted their work with the Latino community, which makes up nearly 50% of Los Angeles. But when Bass insinuated that Caruso had paid for an endorsement by the Avance Democratic Club, a group whose mission is to build Latino political power, Caruso replied: “Oh, are you insulting Avance?”

“That is really a big move,” Caruso said. “The largest Latino Democratic club in the country was just insulted by you.”

Caruso then claimed the difference between him and Bass was that he will “accept everybody and never insult any Angeleno.”

Bass responded by pointing to Caruso’s attacks on her.

“Oh, you’ve insulted this Angeleno, consistently,” Bass said.

Tuesday’s debate will be at the studios of NBC 4 and Telemundo 52 in Universal City and televised by both stations.

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