What a Caruso win and Bass loss means for Black power in L.A.

The words, shouted into a microphone by a supremely confident campaign hypeman, echoed across Echo Park Lake.

“Guys, we are in coalition! Look around!”

In fact, a boisterous crowd — one as racially and ethnically diverse as Los Angeles residents — had just poured out of an open-top, double-decker tour bus that had been making the rounds of various boroughs.

At this stop, mayoral candidate Karen Bass was one of the last to get off. As she waded into the crowd, the soundtrack switched from a disc jockey belting out DMX’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” to the band Tres Souls performing a ballad in Spanish.

“You can’t buy what you see here,” Bass told her supporters, echoing one of her new favorite outbursts to her billionaire-spending opponent, Rick Caruso. “We have proved that the power of the people is stronger than the power of the dollar.”

As Angeleno who voted for bass, I hope she’s right.

But with the latest polls showing the dead heat race, I can’t help but wonder what it would mean for racial and ethnic relations in Los Angeles if she loses.

What kind of reality check would that send out about the limits of black political power in a city that in some ways once embodied it? Would Black Angelenos be upset if they were denied the opportunity to elect the city’s second black mayor?

Under normal circumstances, these are questions that would not be worth asking at all. Black Angelenos have overwhelmingly backed political candidates who have lost in the past. Life went on. Coalitions like the one Bass cheered on at Echo Park Lake continued.

But these are not exactly normal circumstances.

The recently leaked recording of three Latino LA City Council members and a Latino labor leader using racist tropes while plotting to dilute black political power cast an ugly, uncertain shadow over the Nov. 8 election .

At the very least, the leaked record has fueled existing fears of a zero-sum political system that pits black residents, who now make up 8% of the city’s population, against Latino residents, who make up about half.

“You could be dealing with a hornet’s nest,” said Bernard Parks Jr., who served as his father’s chief of staff, Councilman Bernard Parks, for more than a decade. “There is obviously a lot of hurt feelings about this recent scandal.”

And it doesn’t help that if Bass loses, it’s likely to play out like this: Bass would have massive support from white liberals and black Angelenos. But Caruso would win, thanks in part to San Fernando Valley voters but mostly thanks to a wave of new Latino voters inspired to vote.

According to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released last week and co-sponsored by The Times, Bass still leads the field, but their lead has fallen 15 points since September. She now leads among likely voters by 45% to 41%, with 13% saying they remain undecided – a range that’s well within the poll’s margin of error.

Much of this is because Caruso now leads among likely Latino voters, 48% to 31%. In September, Bass topped the same demographic by 35% to 29%.

Money can. The real estate developer is expected to spend $100 million on its campaign, of which about $13 million went to hiring workers to go door-to-door and speak to voters in an unprecedented field operation. He dropped another $26 million on TV, radio and digital advertising, much of it in Spanish.

But it’s not just about the money. As my columnist Gustavo Arellano recently wrote, Caruso also spent a lot of time listening to Latino voters and talking about his own family’s immigrant history. That also helped him.

To win, Caruso would need to increase turnout among Latino voters from about 21% in the June primary to nearly 30% of the total electorate. It’s unlikely, but quite possible.

“I think there’s a sense of black loss, this fear of extinction that’s there because of gentrification and demographic change,” said Manuel Pastor, director of the USC Dornsife Equity Research Institute. “And if this proven black political leader doesn’t make it to mayor, that will help.”


Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso greets business owner Sergio Pulido in front of the Gust Picoulas Nut Company in downtown LA

Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso (right) greets business owner Sergio Pulido in front of Gust Picoulas Nut Co. in downtown Los Angeles last week. Caruso took part in a Community Walk on Skid Row to better understand voters’ needs.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Unfortunately, no matter what happens in LA’s mayoral race, it’s likely to be dragged into the messier national narrative about Democratic Party politics and Latino-Black voters. And that story wasn’t good.

According to the latest national polls, Republicans are likely to regain control of the House and possibly the Senate in the midterm elections. It’s more of a mixed bag for governors, secretaries of state and attorneys general, but Republicans should gain there too.

How did the Democrats get into such a sad and pathetic position, where an incumbent president and two former presidents are forced to tour the country asking left-leaning Americans to vote just to save democracy?

Well, according to popular narrative, the party hasn’t done nearly enough to meet the needs of Latino voters, the fastest growing group in the US electorate. Or the black voters, widely seen as the backbone of the party.

It’s black voters who can influence elections now, despite grappling with a slew of new laws that make voting harder. But it is Latino voters who will do so in the future.

But according to a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and theGrio, only 22% of black voters said Democrats represent their interests very well. And numerous other polls show that Latino voters are increasingly leaning toward Conservative and Republican candidates, although overall most Black and Hispanic voters still plan to vote for Democrats.

What does all this have to do with the Los Angeles mayoral race?

Caruso is a registered Democrat, but given his changing party registration over the years, he is still considered a Republican. (Cue Bass talks about being just “a true Democrat in the running.”)

If he wins, mark my words, the narrative will be about Latino voters turning down a senior, lifelong member of the Democratic Party in favor of a billionaire businessman who was a Republican until earlier this year — and that will only serve to ” Hornet’s Nest” that Parks spoke of.

Even in Los Angeles, the future is always now.

Unlike so many cities in so many swing states that rely on black turnout for midterm elections, Latinos here make up a far more crucial 37% of registered voters — especially compared to when LA had its last black mayor , Tom Bradley, chose.

“The African American population was twice what it is today,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA. “At one point – the peak – I think it was 18% of the population and probably a little more among registered voters,” he said. “And that was the first building block of Bradley’s election.”

So what happens when Bass loses? Will Black voters feel that their votes don’t matter, leading to even greater voter apathy than I’ve already experienced when speaking to Angelenos who refuse to cast a ballot?

Terrance Woodbury, chief executive officer of HIT Strategies, which tracks black voters in California, North Carolina and Georgia, said polls show people are most likely to vote when they know it will affect the outcome of a race.

Vice President Kamala Harris (right) hugs mayoral candidate Karen Bass in October. Harris returns to LA on Monday.

Vice President Kamala Harris hugs mayoral candidate Karen Bass at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in October. Harris, who has backed Bass, is returning to LA Monday for a rally urging people to vote.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

It’s all psychic.

“You lose and then you start thinking about what you lost after the campaign,” Parks mused. “Well, maybe you’ve lost the power of the blacks. Perhaps the statements on these tapes will come true. Maybe, you know, we’re not that relevant.”

In reality, nothing about black political power in LA would change if Bass loses. There are still three black members on the city council. Black Lives Matter, despite its recent controversy and legal woes, is still a force to be reckoned with here.

But it would be further evidence of the need for coalitions. Maybe even more of it. Certainly stronger.

“Nevertheless, we have work ahead of us. We have a lot of work to do across the city,” said Alberto Retana, executive director of the Community Coalition, which Bass founded. “What work can I and other Latinos do who are not just pro-Black people [and] brown unity but an anti black racist agenda what to do to build in terms of infrastructure, outreach and education?

In another finding from this UC Berkeley poll sponsored by The Times, 77% of registered Blacks and 54% of registered Latinos said that for the next mayor it was “extremely important” to “admit coalition building between people of different racial and ethnic origins.” prioritize.”

The same poll found that nearly 70% of registered voters believe racial and ethnic relations are “fair” or “poor” in LA.

In this case, no matter who wins – hopefully Bass, but even Caruso – this can’t be a missed opportunity.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-07/election-la-mayor-race-karen-bass-rick-caruso-black-political-power What a Caruso win and Bass loss means for Black power in L.A.

Alley Einstein

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