Five of the leading candidates to be the next mayor of Los Angeles faced off in a debate at Loyola Marymount University on Tuesday, finding common ground over the major issues facing the city but differing in whose approach to solve them is the best.
Rep. Karen Bass, Councilmember Joe Buscaino, Councilmember Kevin de León, City Attorney Mike Feuer, and real estate agent Mel Wilson participated in the event, hosted by LMU’s Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles. Businessman Rick Caruso was also invited, but did not participate.
Fernando Guerra, professor of Political Science and Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies and director of the Center, moderated the event, which was broadcast live on Spectrum News 1. He opened the event by citing survey numbers showing attendees of the debate identified homelessness as the biggest issue in the city, and asked candidates how they would address it.
“Anyone on this stage can make big, bold promises on the idea of homelessness,” said de León, noting his successes on the City Council in helping move people living in encampments into transitional housing. “If we can move heaven and earth to build football stadiums and basketball arenas, we can sure as hell do the same thing to get our students, our veterans, and people of color out of encampments and into housing, now.”
There was general agreement that positively impacting the city’s homelessness problem requires a broad set of solutions, and candidates clashed over what to prioritize and who can best achieve those goals.
Feuer referred to an ordinance his office drafted, and a similar policy he would support as mayor, of moving people living on sidewalks or in other public areas into different housing options, and giving them a deadline to do so. “As mayor, I’m going to expand our outreach, the outreach is going to focus on housing and services first, and we’re going to say to people experiencing homelessness: ‘the street is not safe for you here.’ ”
Buscaino shot back that Feuer’s actions as city attorney had contributed to the problem, by endorsing a settlement in the Mitchell lawsuit that prevents seizure of property owned by people experiencing homelessness, even if it is piled up across public right-of-way areas like sidewalks.
“Look at the demise of our city, of the quality of life in our city,” Buscaino said. “I actually voted against this Mitchell (settlement). And all of a sudden, our city attorney is concerned about the quality of life in our public right-of-ways.”
Wilson, who was appointed by two previous mayors to serve on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors, was the lone candidate on stage not currently holding an elected office. He was also the only candidate to oppose a vaccine mandate for city workers and to say that homelessness was not the top problem facing Los Angeles. Wilson pointed to workforce development, housing affordability, and business taxes as major issues.
“L.A. is the least business friendly city in the nation. We have a high tax, a gross (receipts) tax, and it’s gross,” Wilson said. “We need to get rid of this tax. We can create more revenue by having businesses here. Businesses are leaving our state, they’re taking our kids and our grandkids with them, and it’s making me mad.”
The protesters who disrupted the debate provided the most sheer excitement of the night, attempting to shout over the candidates and charge the stage. One activist later told the Los Angeles Times that he was objecting to the candidates’ near-unanimous support for increasing the size of the police department. (Councilman de León said LAPD staffing should remain the same.)
“All neighborhoods want safe conditions, all neighborhoods want police to respond appropriately and quickly,” said Rep. Bass. “But as long as officer-involved shootings and deaths continue to be disproportionate in black and brown communities, those communities will continue to be fearful of police.”
Several candidates took advantage of Caruso’s absence to direct pointed comments at his record. Buscaino noted Caruso had supported a 2005 ballot initiative that would have made it harder for government-employee unions to spend money on political efforts. Feuer pointed to a 2019 survey showing an above-average number of women at USC, where Caruso is the board of trustees chair, saying they had been the victims of sexual assault while in college.
More information about the mayoral debate, including candidates’ videos and news reports, can be found here.