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The race for mayor is heating up in Los Angeles

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In less than two weeks, Los Angeles voters will decide who will be their next mayor. LA is the second-largest city in the country, so the stakes are high. And this race is heated. Longtime California politician and congresswoman Karen Bass and billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso are the front-runners in the nonpartisan primary.

Fernando Guerra has been watching this election closely, and he is the director of Loyola Marymount's Center for the Study of Los Angeles. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

FERNANDO GUERRA: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us. So can you just set the scene for us? Like, what would you say is the legacy of the current mayor, Eric Garcetti? What will he leave behind for the next mayor of LA to pick up?

GUERRA: Sure. I mean, Eric Garcetti is a long-time politician, civic leader. His father was district attorney. He was on the city council - president of the city council - then elected mayor, and he's been mayor for the last nine years. Even though there are a lot of challenges, his approval rating is actually still pretty high in most of the polls. However, the challenge, of course, is homelessness, increasing crime and the cost of living, the quality of life. All those issues have come to the fore.

And Eric Garcetti is a representative of the liberal democratic regime that has dominated LA politics for the last 25 years or so. And Karen Bass is the heir apparent to that. Rick Caruso is the challenger to that whole regime as an outsider. And that sets up this insider-outsider competition for mayor of LA.

CHANG: Yeah. Let's talk about those two front-runners, both Karen Bass and Rick Caruso. I mean, this is just a primary, but given the way Angelenos vote, it is very likely that one of them will end up as the next mayor. So let's start with Congresswoman Karen Bass. She's been in politics for decades. And like you say, she sort of represents the kind of liberal, establishment Democrat that LA usually goes for, right?

GUERRA: Absolutely.

CHANG: What is her platform like?

GUERRA: I think her platform is to really maintain the values of LA voters and residents and the values of liberal Democrats. I think if you were to compare where LA voters and residents are to what she stands for, I think, you know, on the natural, about 80% would be very supportive of her.

The question really is the moment. It's not the values, but the policies toward the immediate challenges that the voters are concerned with. And so the platform has to directly talk about homelessness and increasing crime. And of course, like typical Democrats, there is this, hey, it's nuanced; there's a lot of elements to it and etc. And somehow that is not effective communication at this moment. And so most of her support is, I would say, legacy support; that we trust and value what she stands for, so we're going to go with that.

CHANG: I mean, she's had a strong lead for a while now, but now she seems to be losing voters to Rick Caruso. Why is that? Like, what about his message is pulling over Bass supporters? Or is her current weakness just the lack of clarity in her message or her platform?

GUERRA: Yeah, two things. I wouldn't say that she's losing voters because they're both gaining voters. Rick Caruso is just gaining voters at a much greater clip. And the reason he's doing that is because the amount of money that he's spending. He spent over $25 million, which, of course, is breaking all kinds of spending records in Los Angeles.

CHANG: Yeah.

GUERRA: And we've not seen anything like that since Bloomberg running in New York. So he's dominated the airwaves. He's dominated narrative. And he's focused on homelessness and public safety and not really nuanced policies, but just saying, these are problems; I didn't cause them, and I can solve them. It's that simple of a message over and over. And people say, hey, he's right; these are problems.

CHANG: It's appealing, that simplicity.

GUERRA: Yeah, yeah.

CHANG: He's going to solve everything. OK.

GUERRA: And so you've seen him increase tremendously in all the polls, catch up to Karen Bass, maybe pass her. But they're pretty close tied. There are 10 other candidates on the ballot.

CHANG: (Laughter) Yeah.

GUERRA: You know, and so given that - a couple of strong ones as well - I don't think either one of them can get to the 50% that would end the race. Therefore, the top two would go into November.

CHANG: That is Fernando Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, where he is also the director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles. Thank you very much for joining us today.

GUERRA: Oh, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Jonaki Mehta
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.