Saturday, May 18, 2024

‘The whole city is in limbo’: Anxious waiting as Bass, Caruso ballots are counted for L.A. mayor

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Rick Caruso and Karen Bass both asserted their optimism Wednesday about an eventual victory in the Los Angeles mayor’s race, with both saying they would not let the slowly unfolding tabulation get in the way of their plans for a quick transition into the city’s top job.

The lead in the contest changed hands several times after polls closed Tuesday, with Caruso narrowly ahead by Wednesday morning, the last update from election officials. But analysts said the race remained far too close to call, with as many as half the ballots remaining to be tabulated.

The extended count left Los Angeles in a state of suspended animation, with some political activists saying they were too nervous to think about the outcome and others trolling for any scrap of new data.

“It does feel a little like the whole city is in limbo,” said Robin Rudisill, a Venice resident and activist on coastal issues. “We’re so anxious for someone to take charge and do something about this crisis we’re in. These are such extreme times. And we have to take strong, big actions. But for now we’re just waiting.”

Visiting Langer’s Deli west of downtown Wednesday morning, Caruso told patrons and reporters that he felt he would eventually prevail. Though eager to become mayor, the 63-year-old businessman said he would have to wait along with everyone else in L.A.

“I wish it could happen sooner,” he said. “But they’ve got to verify signatures, it‘s just the process.”

Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso talks with customers before having lunch at Langer's Deli.

Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso talks with customers before having lunch at Langer’s Deli in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

With a Dec. 12 swearing-in date looming for the next mayor, Caruso said he intends to be prepared.

He told reporters that he had directed Areen Ibranossian, a senior campaign aide, to contact the staff of the city’s chief administrative officer for briefings on the budget and other subjects.

Caruso also referred to Ibranossian, a former chief of staff to Councilmember Paul Krekorian, as his chief of staff — suggesting he may hold the post in his administration if elected. The presence of the veteran City Hall employee in Caruso’s camp suggested that the candidate, though insisting on the value of his “outsider’s” perspective, understands the benefit of having aides who understand the massive city bureaucracy.

“I’m going to inherit a budget,” Caruso said. “We have to know how to work with that budget.” In his last days of campaigning he had told a group of business people on skid row that he wants to quickly show the public that a new culture of service — including more expeditious planning and zoning reviews — was taking hold in city government.

But much of what the mayor can achieve will also depend on the City Council. A potential leftward tilt of the council could add to the challenges for a new mayor, particularly Caruso, a political moderate.

Hugo Soto-Martinez, who stands a good chance of defeating incumbent Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell for a Hollywood-area council seat, made the potential friction clear after his own visit to Langer’s Deli on Wednesday.

“We’ll see what happens with the mayor’s race. But I think we’re gonna have a very new progressive bloc,” Soto-Martinez said, “and I think [Caruso] will have some challenges on his hands.“

While Bass did not make a public appearance Wednesday, her campaign released a statement expressing her optimism.

“We feel great about these early numbers, and we expect to see support for our campaign build even more as further reports are released, just like we did in June,” said Sarah Leonard Sheahan, the candidate’s communications director. “We are also looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and launching our urgent solutions for homelessness, public safety and affordability.”

Karen Bass with supporters at her election night event in Hollywood.

Karen Bass with supporters at her election night event Tuesday at the Hollywood Palladium.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The campaign promised that “Karen Bass will be ready to lead us forward on Day One.” Like her opponent, Bass had spoken in the last days of the race about some of the issues she intended to confront. She reiterated that her prime focus would be homelessness and renewed her pledge to immediately declare a state of emergency on the issue.

The 11-year member of the House of Representatives said she had been particularly concerned about the sunsetting of a federal program that helped the city pay to shelter homeless people in hotels.

Bass, 69, said she wanted to see that program extended. “On Day One,” Bass said, “we will identify the most challenging encampments and we will get those people housed.”

One constituent who understood the anxiety provoked by days of vote counting was Los Angeles Unified School Board Vice President Nick Melvoin, who waited several days in June before enough votes came in to make him confident his race wouldn’t require a run-off.

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After attending Bass’ election night party Tuesday at the Hollywood Palladium, Melvoin found himself clicking on the county Registrar Recorder’s website until past 3 a.m. to get the latest updates on the mayor’s race.

He said that public officials want to tend to work but often find a delayed election outcome means “no one can pay attention. Everyone is in a holding pattern.”

Bass’ advisors and supporters took heart from the way the June primary election results unfolded. The congresswoman trailed Caruso in election night returns by 5 percentage points, only to take the lead a week later, as late mail-in ballots were tabulated. She eventually finished more than 7 percentage points in front of Caruso.

Caruso stalwarts insisted that the primary voting patterns wouldn’t necessarily hold this time, as the first tranches of returns Tuesday and Wednesday revealed no clear pattern for either candidate.

Paul Mitchell, a political data expert who closely tracked the race, said he saw “nothing really striking to indicate the remaining ballots would be polarized one way or another.”

With 493,000 votes tabulated by Wednesday morning, Mitchell said that might end up being only about half of the total ballots in the final mayoral tally.

That means the candidates and their backers will have to be patient, Mitchell said.

“They can remain calm. Or they can freak out. They can do whatever they want,” Mitchell said. “It’s not going to change anything.”

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