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Bass and Caruso criticize city leadership in final mayoral debate before election

The candidates addressed the housing crisis, police reform and taxes as they made their final pitches to voters.

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Karen Bass and Rick Caruso clashed in the final debate in the Los Angeles mayoral race Tuesday night, trading barbs as they criticized each others’ track record on hot-button issues and ability to lead the city.

Both candidates criticized the current leadership in L.A., with Caruso claiming that “the system is broken” and Bass asserting that the city needs “new leadership that will make sure we reject the politics of divide and conquer.”

Caruso and Bass were united in their condemnation of L.A. city leadership, citing the controversy surrounding several L.A. council members as an example of the current city leadership’s inability to bring communities together successfully.

Days before the debate, leaked audio surfaced of the former president of the Los Angeles City Council, Nury Martinez, along with council members Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León and L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, making openly racist remarks about some of their colleagues and Angelenos in general.

Martinez went as far as saying that fellow council member Mike Bonin’s 8-year-old son, who is Black, was an “accessory” and said his son is a “parece changuito,” which translates to “looks like a little monkey,” the L.A. Times reported. Martinez also made derogatory comments about Oaxacans.

As they entered the final debate before the election, the L.A. mayoral race remains close, according to a report by the LA Times. Bass leads Caruso by three points among all voters, compared to the 12-point lead she held back in August. Bass’ lead among voters most likely to participate in November also shrank from 21 points to 15 points.

Both Bass and Caruso have deep ties to USC and its controversies.

Bass was under criticism for a $95,000 tuition scholarship from USC’s social work program in 2011 from Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of USC’s social work program. As Annenberg Media previously reported, Flynn recently pleaded guilty in September to bribery in a separate case involving the former L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Flynn was in dealings with Ridley-Thomas and planned to use USC social work as a transmission channel to the Ridley-Thomas campaign committee. Federal prosecutors have mentioned her in their case but have not said she is under investigation.

According to the L.A. Times, “[by] awarding free tuition to Bass in 2011, Flynn hoped to obtain the congresswoman’s assistance in passing coveted legislation, prosecutors wrote in a July court filing.” In addition, the Times reported that Bass supported a Congressional bill that would provide USC and other private universities with greater access to federal funds for their social work programs.

Caruso has been accused by Bass of covering up sexual abuse at USC when he failed to disclose the results of the investigation into USC gynecologist George Tyndall, who was accused of sexually abusing numerous women during his time with the University. Caruso claims an investigation was conducted but has yet to release a report addressing the allegations.

The candidates agreed that the failure of leadership in L.A. extends far beyond the city council, affecting the city’s policy regarding the housing crisis, policing and drug usage.

Bass continued to pledge to address the root causes of homelessness to provide long-term solutions, which she has called for throughout several debates.

Caruso once again faced criticism for his history as a contractor in L.A., with Bass calling him out for “having spent his life as a builder and never, ever built one unit of affordable housing.”

Caruso refuted the criticism by citing his business as focused on retail center construction and reiterated his plan to build 30,000 interim housing units.

“My business has never been in building affordable housing…You need to have somebody who’s a builder and is in business to know what the problem is so you know how to solve it… I’m a builder,” Caruso said.

However, Caruso argued that his history as a “builder” in L.A. makes him uniquely qualified to facilitate the end of the housing crisis and criticized Bass’ “FEMA style” housing solution, which he argued is inhumane.

Caruso reiterated several times that his focus remains on “housing and services,” and that his plan to build 30,000 beds would bring unhoused individuals in and provide them with the psychiatric and drug rehabilitation services needed to get people off the street.

The candidates also disagreed on their plans for police reform and solving crime in the city. While both agreed that the Los Angeles Police Department is severely understaffed, they provided vastly different strategies to increase police presence on the streets.

Bass’ strategy centered around moving officers from desk jobs to patrol work, which Caruso criticized as impossible, claiming that at least half of the officers on desk work are injured and unable to enter the field.

Instead, Caruso promoted his plan of hiring 1,500 new officers and, citing his previous experience leading the Los Angeles Police Commission following the 1992 Los Angeles riots, argued that his experience has proven his ability to take on crime.

Bass previously critiqued Caruso’s plan by pointing out that the “[police] academy can’t even fill a class now.”

Caruso doubled down on his plans for crime prevention while asserting that police reform should include hiring more officers as well as increased training and accountability. In addition, Caruso advocated for the freedom to allow officers to execute their duties, which he claims is difficult in the current political climate because there is “a culture of not allowing the cops to do their job.”

A pivotal juncture in the debate came when the moderators asked how the candidates planned on funding their plans on crucial issues. While Caruso was quick to promise voters he would not raise taxes, Bass did not. When Caruso attacked her on the point, Bass defended herself, saying, “If people are dying on our streets and it is necessary, I might [raise taxes]. ... I’m going to do whatever it takes.”