With hindsight, I missed the first sign that LA mayoral candidate Karen Bass might struggle to hold on to black male support.
It happened in mid-May when legendary Long Beach rapper Snoop Dogg decided to reach out to their main adversary, billionaire developer and former Republican Rick Caruso, and offer his support.
“You have my support,” he said to Caruso via Zoom, TV news cameras document the exchange. “We are a part of whatever you are a part of as far as bringing love into the community.”
A few days later there was another sign. I missed that too.
Clarence Avant, the revered music industry mogul who supported then-Sen. Barack Obama in Southern California’s political and entertainment circles, also supported Caruso. The 91-year-old, whose wife Jacqueline was murdered in an invasion of their Beverly Hills home last year, left it to the contestant to break the news.
“I’m humbled and grateful to have his support,” Caruso told the Times.
Weeks later, it’s now clear that these two black guys have plenty of company.
A new poll of likely voters, conducted by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, found about half of black men plan to vote for Caruso in Tuesday’s primary. In fact, of all the men interviewed, black men were the most likely to support him.
It’s somewhat surprising — and as a black woman, more than a little mysterious — given the years Bass has spent working in the Black and Latino neighborhoods of south LA and serving as one of the two black members of the city’s congressional delegation .
Of course, it’s not written in stone that all black people must vote for black candidates. Many black men and women certainly support Caruso for their own sound political reasons – maybe even Snoop Dogg, certainly Clarence Avant.
After all, we are not a monolith. I mean just look at Larry Elder.
But in this liberal city, in this very liberal state, it’s also true that Caruso is the most conservative candidate for mayor, and that many of his proposals — while responding to real problems and public anger — are at odds with what most black angelenos have long wanted to tell you.
Caruso, for example, advocates a return to some of the disastrous crime-fighting strategies of the past by locking up more people and backing away from criminal justice reform. He wants to add 1,500 officers to the Los Angeles Police Department and has been joined by former LAPD chief William J. Bratton – he is the broken window nefarious police.
Regarding homelessness, Caruso wants to quickly clear many more camps that are disproportionately occupied by black men thanks to decades of systemic housing discrimination.
He has made big promises to build more shelters and homes, which is easier said than done. But when camps are cleared when there aren’t enough beds available, he has the legally dubious suggestion of moving some homeless people to tent camps modeled on one built for undocumented migrant children in Texas.
Contrast that with Bass, whose propositions on public safety and homelessness are less extreme but far more realistic, sophisticated, and considerate of poor people of color.
Because of this, many political observers assumed she would have the support of most black LA voters if she ran for mayor. Instead, despite strong and consistent support from black women, the poll found an erosion among black voters overall, led by men.
The question is why.
Is it just sexism? Or perhaps a related desire to maintain the patriarchy, as Bass would be the first woman to become LA mayor?
It can’t be racism.
No, I believe the answer has to do with what I call the “ice cube effect”.
If you recall, the Los Angeles rapper helped chart a progressive plan for black America just before the 2020 presidential election. He tried to get the Biden-Harris campaign to take it and was told to wait.
And so, fueled by good intentions and hubris, he instead spoke to Trump administration officials about the plan, drawing an avalanche of criticism, particularly from black women who were appalled that he would even consider going along with it to work with them.
Ice Cube explained that although he had long been away from politics, he acted because Democrats were doing nothing to help black men and therefore didn’t deserve loyalty for votes when Republicans were willing to do better .
“Each side is the dark side for us here in America,” he said at the time. “They are all the same until something changes for us. They all lie and they all cheat.”
I heard a similar logic when I went to Leimert Park over the weekend to try and understand the seemingly lagging support for bass.
I was hoping to speak to black men who were planning to cast their votes for Caruso. Instead, I found a bunch of confused Bass voters who still understood why their fellow black people would do such a thing.
They told me that many black men are disillusioned and fed up with the status quo. They don’t think another politician in Los Angeles can fix anything. So why not give Caruso a chance?
Some black men, they said, are naïve about the complexities of city politics and don’t understand that Caruso’s promises on homelessness and the economy will not be easy or quick to implement — if they happen at all.
Other black men, they said, watch ads on TV and Instagram — part of Caruso’s massive multimillion-dollar publicity streak — and know nothing of his history on the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners or that he wants to add cops to the LAPD.
Black men can be sexist too, they admitted. Some see Bass as “cute” or “mellow,” not “tough” enough to be mayor like a smart, wealthy developer steeped in deals. As one black political insider put it, “Why are we going to vote for them? Because she is a nice lady?”
And then there were the many other black men I met who were completely detached from politics to the point where they didn’t know an election was happening, let alone who was on the ballot.
Some were like Willie, who told me that he used to vote regularly but stopped because he didn’t think a politician – any politician – could solve his problems.
“You can work and your wife can work or your child can work. The dogs can work. The rats and roaches even work, and you still can’t afford to live in a studio apartment in south Los Angeles,” he told me, pausing from selling used DVDs and books from his minivan.
In a louder voice, he continued, “And when was the last time you heard a politician say ‘Black’? When you think of the black community, you think of black women or black children. They don’t really think about us.”
Willie went through a list of government aid programs, from tax credits to infant meal allowances, and argued that they primarily benefit women. Meanwhile, single black men are disproportionately homeless and politicians “don’t care.” Therefore, he speculated, black men make different choices than black women.
“But that’s okay,” he hissed, shaking his head in resigned anger.
On Sunday, the Bass campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the new poll. Statistically, the trendline in black males, while a bit embarrassing, is not a serious problem for them in elementary school.
Black voters make up just 13% of Los Angeles voters. And heading towards the official end of voting on Tuesday, Bass Caruso leads the polls overall 38% to 32%, signaling a runoff election in November.
In many ways, however, this is a race bigger than just Los Angeles. How Angelenos votes for mayor will certainly have national implications on issues ranging from criminal justice and police reform to housing and homelessness.
How we vote will also provide insight into how some of the larger issues within the Democratic Party are likely to be resolved in the years to come.
In 2020, black voters were the difference between a second term for Donald Trump and a first term for Joe Biden, the difference between a narrow majority in Congress and the Republicans who ran the show.
With partisan brinkmanship and the collapse of so many Democratic priorities in Congress, including the police reform effort that Bass helped lead, there are new fears that black voters won’t return in similar numbers — this year or in 2024.
In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that Biden’s approval rating among black adults was 67%, down 20 points from when he began his presidency. Younger voters and Latinos don’t really feel the current administration either, causing even more panic among Democrats.
On the other hand, it’s just a poll.
Polls on the outcome of the 2020 election showed that more black men have defected to Trump. That turned out to be more hype than reality – and the pre-election polls in this mayoral race could be, too.
Black women have long been considered the backbone of the Democratic Party. We are the influential, albeit relatively small percentage of the population – particularly in California – credited with providing voters for elections.
Well, maybe it’s black men who become the guiding light of the Democratic Party.
Because if you can’t persuade a majority of liberal black men in a predominantly blue city like LA to vote for the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, what hope do Democrats in the red and purple states have?
This is the “Ice Cube Effect”.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-06/black-men-favor-rick-caruso-not-karen-bass-los-angeles-mayor-election Why many Black men want Caruso, not Karen Bass as L.A. mayor