When Los Angeles Democrats go to the polls Tuesday, the name “Rick Caruso” will likely be at the forefront of their minds. Caruso, a billionaire who made the bulk of his fortune developing open-air malls, has loaned $37.5 million to his campaign in the race to become L.A.’s next mayor.
That cash has helped Caruso flood Angelenos’ consciousnesses with a tsunami of ads touting his “tough on crime” message and recent wave of celebrity endorsements. The praise from the likes of Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elon Musk, Wolfgang Puck and (most surprisingly) Snoop Dogg seems genuine and enthusiastic — but, when you look a little closer, it’s as shallow as the rest of Caruso’s campaign.
This isn’t the first time that Caruso had considered a run for mayor — back in 2012, he was a Republican who changed his affiliation to independent. He switched back in 2016 to support long shot candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican primaries against Donald Trump. It was only this January that Caruso registered as a Democrat, something he had to do to be able to run in Tuesday’s primary.
The praise from the likes of Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elon Musk, Wolfgang Puck and (most surprisingly) Snoop Dogg seems genuine and enthusiastic.
Caruso has gained traction with his promise to clean up the city’s streets in a campaign that has been compared to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his “broken windows” policies in the 1990s. (It’s worth noting that the NYPD found “no evidence” that a drop in felony crime during that time could be attributed to the surge in police cracking down on minor offenses.) The billionaire’s plan for Los Angeles involves growing the city’s police department to 11,000 officers, bigger than it’s ever been.
He’s also said that he’d declare a homelessness “emergency” in the city, allowing him to bypass the Los Angeles City Council in addressing the estimated 41,000 unhoused people in L.A. To be fair, the policies Caruso is advocating go beyond simply removing encampments. He has said he’d expand Project Roomkey, a program that began during the pandemic to convert unused hotels and motels into shelters for the unhoused. He’s also pledged to double the number of shelter beds available, building roughly 30,000 in less than a year and to quadruple the number of tiny homes available in the city.
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But some of Caruso’s promises have left the public wondering, “How is that going to work?” For example, according to the Los Angeles Times, the LAPD currently has about 9,352 officers and thanks to an “administrative logjam and recruitment struggles” that number isn’t going to get significantly higher in the next year. Caruso told the Times that to overcome that hurdle he would “reduce ‘the time it takes to vet candidates’ and consider offering signing bonuses to new officers.” (Because if there’s anything a department with as dark a history of brutality as the LAPD needs, it’s even less thorough vetting for candidates.)
Likewise, New York Times columnist Jay Caspian Kang recently wrote that Caruso is “promising the world to both sides” in the debate over how to address homelessness. For those who believe drug addiction and mental health are the main determinants, he’s promised to create a “Department of Mental Health and Addiction Treatment.” For those who think a lack of housing is mostly to blame, he has “called for an expansion of permanent supportive housing and rental protections and says he would petition the federal government to triple the number of Section 8 vouchers that help struggling families afford rent.”
But, Kang points out, Caruso’s “plans for the homeless require a fleet of civic and nonprofit workers that don’t exist. The current mobilization against homelessness across the state has seen dire staffing shortages, something I wrote about in March. The shortfall reflects a very sobering reality: It’s hard to find a lot of people who want to deal with the emotional and physical labor of working with unhoused people.”
Which brings us back to Caruso’s celebrity endorsers, most of whom at least say their support is based on his policies. "When it comes to my hometown and there's people that can really make a difference, I think that he really can help with the crime in our city, which is such a big issue," Kardashian said in an Instagram story. Snoop likewise said on a Zoom call announcing his support: “We’re a part of whatever you’re a part of, as far as bringing love to the community and keeping people there that were a part of the community.”
Snoop and Kardashian and other celebrity endorsers are in community with Caruso because they’re really, really rich.
But Snoop and Kardashian and other celebrity endorsers are in community with Caruso because they’re really, really rich. Many have spent time in the same social circles, especially Paltrow, who is a “neighbor and longtime friend,” according to Variety. (She also has a Goop storefront at Caruso’s resort, where fellow supporters co-Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos and music mogul Scooter Braun are members.)
The wealth they’ve accumulated has allowed many of his celebrity endorsers to escape the very issues that Caruso is running on. Rather than living in Los Angeles itself, their homes are mostly in various cities around Los Angeles County: Kardashian lives in Hidden Hills, which is next to Calabasas, where her mother (and Caruso endorser) Kris Jenner lives; Snoop lives in Diamond Bar. Paltrow doesn’t even live in the county — she lives in Montecito, which is part of Santa Barbara County. That they are weighing in on this race from inside their gated communities radiates major “She doesn’t even go here!” energy.
It also means that very few of the celebrities vouching for Caruso would actually be under his jurisdiction were he to become mayor. His power would stop at the borders of the city — or even short of them given that there are several municipalities whose authority extends inside the boundaries of Los Angeles itself. And you have to wonder whether these Caruso fans would back the construction of his proposed permanent housing to address homelessness within the city limits of their own rich enclaves — they should, but my guess is that they would absolutely not.
Heading into Tuesday’s election, Caruso was virtually tied with his top opponent, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., a Black progressive who was on Joe Biden’s short list for vice president during the 2020 presidential race. Bass holds a slight lead, according to a new poll from the L.A. Times and the University of California – Berkeley. Neither is likely to get the 50 percent of the vote required to avoid a runoff in November, which means Angelenos are probably going to spend a lot more time being told of Caruso’s goodness by celebrities who don’t live in Los Angeles.
The mind reels at trying to imagine how much money Caruso will likely have spent by the end of this race. Almost as mind-boggling is that multiple Hollywood elites — including Paltrow — have thrown fundraisers for Caruso. Imagine that: Allegedly to fix the homelessness crisis, these moneyed individuals have opted to give to a billionaire who is more than able to finance his own campaign. There’s a real disconnect here between the world Caruso’s supporters live in and the one that will actually feel the impact of the “law and order” that he promises to restore.