Karen Bass, Rick Caruso Face Off in Mayoral Debate With LA City Council in Turmoil

Los Angeles' mayoral candidates were on the debate stage Tuesday night just days after a leaked recording that has roiled the City Council was made public.

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What to Know

  • Los Angeles mayoral candidates Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso participated in a final debate before Election Day on Nov. 8.
  • The debate comes after a tumultuous weekend when a recording of a discussion involving three council members that included racist slurs was made public.
  • Scroll down for what LA County voters should know about the 2022 election ballot.

Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso made their pitches to Los Angeles voters Tuesday night in the final debate between the two candidates seeking to become the city's next mayor.

The landscape of the race to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti changed dramatically in the days leading up to Tuesday night's event at the Brokaw News Center in Universal City -- the final live debate ahead of Election Day on Nov. 8. The candidates will take the stage two days after a leaked recording was made public of three City Councilmembers and a now-former top LA County labor official in an October 2021 conversation about redistricting that included several racist remarks.

The fallout intensified after the weekend with calls for the resignations of Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, and LA County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera. Martinez stepped down from her role as council president Monday and announced a leave of absence. Herrera has resigned from his position.

Both Bass and Caruso have said all four people in the room should leave office, a sentiment echoed Tuesday during the City Council's first meeting since the recordings were made public.

Los Angeles' candidates for mayor discuss the homeless crisis. Video broadcast Tuesday Oct. 11, 2022 on NBC4 and Telemundo52.

The candidates were asked about the crisis at City Hall with the first question of the debate.

"We have to get to it immediately," Bass said. "I do think the pressure is going to weigh on them, and they will resign, but the city cannot be in a standstill like this.

"You saw what happened at city council today."

Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso respond to a viewer question about the locations of homeless shelters. Video broadcast Oct. 11, 2022 on NBC4 and Telemundo52.

Caruso said the situation cannot devolve into chaos.

"I think it's the job of the mayor to make sure we're not going to have chaos while this is going on," Caruso said. "This is what leadership is all about. We have a system that is literally broken, and it's been broken for a long time.

"It's full of corruption."

Rep. Karen Bass delivers her opening statement in the LA mayoral debate. Video broadcast Tuesday Oct. 11, 2022 on NBC4 and Telemundo52.

Martinez endorsed Bass in the mayoral race. Cedillo endorsed Caruso. Neither de León nor Herrera have made endorsements.

Caruso immediately attempted to connect Bass to the scandal in his initial statement.

"Most of the people involved in this episode have endorsed Karen Bass, I hope she'll do the right thing and demand for their accountability and renounce the endorsement of those who used hate speech," Caruso said on Sunday.

Rick Caruso delivers his opening statement in the LA mayoral debate. Video broadcast Tuesday Oct. 11, 2022 on NBC4 and Telemundo52.

Among other comments in the conversation, Martinez belittled Bonin, who is white and has a Black son, and criticized the child for his behavior at a Martin Luther King Day parade, saying Bonin's son was misbehaving on a float, which might have tipped over if she and the other women on the float didn't step in to "parent this kid."

"They're raising him like a little white kid,'' Martinez said. "I was like, 'this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I'll bring him back.'"

Martinez also called the child "ese changuito,'' Spanish for "that little monkey."

Rep. Karen Bass responds to a question about building community. Video broadcast Tuesday Oct. 11, 2022 on NBC4 and Telemundo52.

The debate soon turned to Los Angeles' homeless crisis and several related issues with both candidates touting their plans. A surge in violent crime, including attacks involving homeless individuals, and the cost of housing also were part of the discussion.

The second half of the debate was spent on homelessness, crime and drug use, with the candidates mostly repeating their talking points from previous debates.

Neither supported a 2024 ballot measure that would require hotels to provide vacant rooms to unhoused people, though Caruso didn't seem to be aware that it was a citizen-driven initiative when he blamed the City Council for "allowing it go on the ballot'' and was corrected by a moderator. The council's two options were to either adopt the measure or send it to voters.

The two candidates differed on whether they would seek a tax increase to address homelessness, with Caruso pledging to not raise taxes while Bass did not.

The once-crowded Los Angeles mayor's race is a two-candidate battle between billionaire Caruso and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bass. Twelve candidates made the cut for the primary ballot in June.

Caruso built a fortune investing in high-end shopping centers and resorts. The Republican-turned-Democrat spent millions of that fortune with TV and online ads.

Bass, once considered a possible pick for Joe Biden's running mate, has strong support from progressive Democrats. The mayor's race is technically non-partisan.

Both have high-profile endorsements and support from Los Angeles celebrities. Lakers great Earvin “Magic” Johnson is backing Bass. Caruso has support from Snoop Dogg, South LA community organizer Sweet Alice Harris and actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Every registered voter in California will receive a ballot by mail, and that means it’s a busy time for the postal system. The NBC 4 Iteam is monitoring processing time and making sure your vote will be delivered on time and counted. Lolita Lopez reports for the NBC 4 News at 6

What to know about voting in the Nov. 8 election

Voting is already underway in Southern California five months after a June primary that set the stage for some high-stakes runoffs in November. California uses a top-two election format in which only the two leading vote-getters advance to the November general election, regardless of party.

Bass and Caruso were the favorites in the June election.

All eligible voters are sent an election ballot from their county elections office. Voters should receive a ballot in the mail a few weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 Election Day.

If you didn't, or you want to know what happened to your ballot after returning it, California offers a ballot tracking systemClick here to track your ballot, find out whether you're registered, locate a polling place and more.

City News Service contributed this reporting.

Editor's Note: It was not immediately clear who recorded audio of the councilmembers' conversation, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. The audio, which appeared on Reddit, but was later removed from the site, also includes discussion of efforts to replace Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who's been indicted on federal corruption charges.

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