In L.A. Mayor Race, Hollywood Divided Between Karen Bass, Rick Caruso – The Hollywood Reporter

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With the June 7 California primaries fast approaching, Hollywood already is awash with fundraisers for frontrunners in the Los Angeles mayoral race. “I’ve never seen something crazier in my entire life,” says Rick Caruso supporter Jay Sures. “Hollywood, it’s broken down. You have Rick Caruso supporters. You have Karen Bass supporters, and then you have undecided supporters who are going to end up voting for Rick.”

Longtime Bass supporter Ellen Goldsmith-Vein has this take on the issues at play: “Both inside and outside of the industry, people are angry and afraid that they are going to lose their city to crime and homelessness. They are also upset about the inhumanity they see every day on the streets. Most of the people I know in the industry support Karen Bass.”

This industry split mimics recent general polls, which show six-term Democratic Congresswoman Bass virtually even with political newcomer, developer Caruso (a former Republican who’s now a Democrat). The mayoral primary includes all parties, with the top two winners going on to compete in the November general election.

Joe Buscaino (left), Mike Feuer and Gina Viola
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images; yung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images; Courtesy of Subject

L.A. City Council Member Kevin de León was running a distant third in an early April UC Berkeley poll, with L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and community organizer Gina Viola polling at 2 percent or less. While de León boasts such supporters as Frank Gehry, most of Hollywood appears to be rallying around either the progressive, political insider Bass or the moderate, business-oriented Caruso. Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Disney’s Dana Walden, CAA’s Bryan Lourd as well as Scooter Braun are Caruso supporters, while Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel, Showtime’s David Nevins and ICM’s Chris Silbermann are backing Bass. (On Thursday, mayoral candidate L.A. City Council member Joe Buscaino dropped out of the race and endorsed Caruso.)

“I think the buzz about this mayoral race is that it is…the public servant versus the business tycoon,” says casting director and Bass supporter Vanessa Spencer. “Many people in Hollywood who love shiny objects and a good classic Hollywood tale of the ‘white knight’ are all in on Rick…and many of those folks will feel good about voting for him because he changed his party affiliation. Now, anyone with a bit of savvy knows he had to do that to get anyone in Hollywood or bigwig to support him, especially publicly. But let’s be real, Rick does not have a true bleeding heart for a Democratic agenda or even progressive policies that L.A. needs right now if we are going to grow as a city.”

High-profile crimes — including the brutal murder of Jacqueline Avant — and L.A.’s crisis of the unhoused are at the forefront of many industry voters’ minds. “We know that we are on a precipice, whether we lose the City of Angels or whether we save it,” says Caruso supporter Irena Medavoy, who counted Avant as a friend. “I want to be really honest with you. The Hollywood community wants to feel safe. When people we know are being murdered and robbed…we’ve never seen this. So if you are paying the highest taxes…where does it go?”

Medavoy and many Caruso supporters feel he will be tougher on crime and point to his promise to support the recall of District Attorney George Gascón, who is under attack by critics as being soft on crime.

Bass boosters, meanwhile, believe her approach is more nuanced and will be more effective. “What I appreciate about Ms. Bass is that while she understands the sentiment of defund the police — which is a horrible slogan — she is clear that we need to reallocate some of those funds and refund other programs to aid the police and communities,” Spencer says.

Bass supporter Hannah Linkenhoker, chief engagement officer of entertainment law firm Johnson Shapiro, also worries Caruso’s more hard-line stance could marginalize already suffering communities. “I just believe that we can have a fair justice system and also have a safe city. I personally believe Karen will know how to straddle both of those priorities. I have a lot of concerns about having a major pendulum swing in the opposite direction just when we’ve started to turn a corner” on criminal justice reform.

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Bass with actress Yvette Nicole Brown (right) at a March 22 Oscars event hosted by Emily’s List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights.
Araya Doheny/Getty Images

Personal relationships with the candidates also have helped sway many insiders’ preferences, including Caruso supporter Brian Grazer. “He’s organizationally strong, really strong. He makes every deadline on every project he’s ever done,” Grazer says. “I’m on the board of USC. And I saw how he immediately volunteered himself to be the temporary chairman of the board. And he succeeded on every level very quickly during a moment in time for USC where they needed him.”

Sures similarly touts Caruso for his business skills. “There’s so much bureaucracy just to get a streetlight replaced on your street. It’s outrageous,” Sures says. “It should be simple. Just look at the properties that he’s built. They’re all so well run; they look beautiful. They’re diverse. They have so many different types of people that go to them and they’re user-friendly. I think that’s what he wants to do for our city.”

Count Tiffany Haddish, though, on Team Bass. “Karen is right for the job because as long as I’ve known her, she’s always been a woman of her word,” says Haddish. “She cares about children and homelessness, and she does a lot of things to resolve those issues. She also does a lot of work with foster youth, getting them motivated and helping them be productive citizens.”

Hollywood supporters also tout their preferred candidate as being better for the entertainment industry.

“She was a big supporter of the film and TV tax credit program when she was in the Assembly,” says Linkenhoker of Bass. “She’s been great to work with on issues like clients having passport issues. She’s always really supportive.”

But Caruso fans believe that his promises to streamline and loosen the permitting process will bring more production back to Los Angeles.

“People are leaving. He’s not going to let them leave,” Medavoy says. “We have a state and a city that used to be the golden place for shooting, and people want to stay home and be with their families. We have the north, we have the desert, we have the mountains, we have everything. And we’re not able to shoot here because it’s too expensive.”

Says Caruso in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter about his support of Hollywood: “L.A. is the entertainment capital of the world, and I’m going to work with industry leadership to make sure that never changes. I’m deeply grateful for the strong and growing support I have been getting from community. As mayor, I will constantly focus on giving the industry the tools to grow, create more jobs and bring back filming to our great city.”

Bass, in her own statement to THR, says: “The entertainment industry is the beating heart of our city’s economy, and it’s what’s made Los Angeles such an iconic destination. That’s why I’ve led on these issues — one example being when I was speaker of California’s State Assembly, I led passage of California’s Film and Television Tax Credit, which saved and created thousands of jobs in our city by incentivizing the entertainment industry to hire and film in our state. As mayor, I will build on that record and do everything in my power to strengthen and protect the entertainment industry, growing our city’s extraordinary cultural reach.” She specifies that she will create a new “real estate division to expedite the development of more soundstage spaces and postproduction facilities across Los Angeles,” partner with FilmLA “to make city properties across L.A. available for filming, work with neighborhoods to encourage production while respecting residents’ quality of life” and “keep working to diversify the industry.” She adds, “Before I was in public office and I was working at Community Coalition, I supported programs that are still around today working to diversify below-the-line trades in the industry. As mayor, I want to ensure young people in neighborhoods across the city are exposed to opportunities within the industry and equipped with the skills for successful careers.”

The May 2 seismic leak of a Supreme Court draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade also has injected heat into the race. Pro-choice Bass released a strongly worded statement calling it “an example of powerful men deciding only they should make life-and-death decisions over women’s lives.” Caruso also takes a pro-choice stance and released a statement condemning the draft decision. But according to Los Angeles Times reporter Julia Wick, he has made donations to pro-life politicians in the past. As Wick notes, in a 2007 Los Angeles Magazine profile journalist Ed Leibowitz wrote of Caruso, “He says he opposes abortion in most cases but would support some stem cell research.” Additionally, Planned Parenthood called on Caruso to apologize for prior donations to anti-choice politicians. A spokesman for Caruso says, “He has always supported Roe v. Wade.” Caruso also tweeted that he supports passage of a “constitutional amendment to enshrine a woman’s right to choose in our state’s constitution” and that he will form a California PAC (with initial support of $100k) to lobby for such an amendment.

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From left: Gwyneth Paltrow, Caruso and designer Jennifer Meyer at an event at the developer’s Palisades Village retail center in 2018. In March, Paltrow threw a Caruso fundraiser.
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images

The political-money scene has been active as well. Sures threw a fundraiser for Caruso on Feb. 23, while Gwyneth Paltrow held her own Caruso event in March. On the Bass side, Tracee Ellis Ross hosted an online talk with Bass, while J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath have donated $250,000 to Communities United for Bass, matching Democratic power player Jeffrey Katzenberg’s $250,000 donation. But no donations can match what billionaire Caruso has given himself. According to The Real Deal, Caruso has spent $22 million of his own fortune on the race. However, at the end of April, Bass had the edge in fundraising, raising $1 million since January, while Caruso raised $570,000.

Supporters also praise the candidates’ personal qualities. Longtime Caruso friend Medavoy says, “It’s not about the ego for this guy,” she says. “You actually have a man of service. He really does have faith. He really does go to church every Sunday,” while Goldsmith-Vein says of Bass: “She is sincere — what you see is what you get. A thoughtful, dedicated and passionate public servant with a great sense of humor.”

No matter what side Hollywood insiders fall on, there is a general consensus that this is an election of monumental importance. “One way or another, we need dramatic change,” Grazer says. “And we have to do it quickly.”

This story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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