LA mayoral debate: Karen Bass, Rick Caruso discuss homelessness, corruption, crime

Congresswoman Karen Bass and businessman Rick Caruso met for a public debate Wednesday night less than two months before the November general election. 

The latest polling from UC Berkeley and the Los Angeles Times shows Bass extending her lead to double digits over Caruso, despite Caruso spending more than 10 times as much as Bass on his campaign, according to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission

Here's where the two candidates stood on the issues.


Bass opened the debate by vowing to address the issue of homelessness.

"We have an emergency," she said. "Forty-thousand people on our streets not being addressed, to me, like an urgency… We can have a city where homelessness is addressed. We can have a city where people feel safe and actually are safe. We can have a city where people are not priced out.

Both Bass and Caruso said getting the homeless off the street is the first step. Both want to increase housing options for those in need. Bass however criticized Caruso's plan saying it only focuses on getting people indoors while neglecting things like health and mental health services. Caruso however said that the mental health services would come under his plan, but getting people off the street is a necessary first step.

"The cost of providing a service on the street is three times the cost of providing a service when someone is sheltered. We could treat three times the amount of people if we keep them in shelters [than] if you keep them on the street," Caruso said. 


Caruso said that affordability in Los Angeles is "upside down… You work hard you go to school you get a decent job and you can't afford an apartment or to buy here," Caruso said. In order to combat the rising cost of living, Caruso said he wants to get rid of building regulations, something he said he "deals with every day."

Bass, should she be voted as LA Mayor, vowed to dedicate a "separate line" for those looking to gain access to affordable housing.

"For anyone that wants to come and build housing, specifically for the homeless or affordable housing," she said. "One, you don't need to go to the front of the line, we have to have a completely separate line for you." 

Bass also added that the path to better affordability starts with more well-paying jobs, and lowering rents. "There are regulations that need to change, but I think the process needs to change," Bass said.

Both Bass and Caruso were in favor of extending protections to renters, including a potential extension to the eviction moratorium.

Caruso said he's spoken to landlords who are in favor of giving renters who are unable to pay a break, but called the moratorium in its current state "unfair" to landlords. "If someone's making money and can afford the rent they shouldn't be carried," he said. Caruso said he would extend the moratorium after changing it to be more "fair to everyone."

"We cannot allow more people to become homeless by the moratorium going away, but we also need to help the landlords," Bass said, in support of extending the eviction moratorium. "We don't need to default on their mortgages, and then you have two people without housing." 

Public Safety

Bass' stance on increasing public safety she said is three-fold – moving officers from administrative duties, hiring more officers and investing in crime prevention strategies like community coalitions.

Caruso reiterated the need for more officers, and said that more need to be hired, citing decreasing academy class numbers. "We're dealing with the highest homicide rate in 15 years," he said.

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Wednesday's debate comes as Caruso is calling out Bass for corruption for a scholarship that the Congresswoman received from the University of Southern California a decade ago. According to reporting from the Los Angeles Times, Bass received a $100,000 scholarship from USC's School of Social Work. A similar scholarship led to a corruption investigation into former LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and a guilty plea from the former dean of that school of social work.

Flynn was charged with offering Ridley-Thomas a scholarship for his son in exchange for county contracts for the school. In attempting to establish a pattern, prosecutors in that case are using an email from Flynn in which she allegedly admitted to doing something similar for Bass. 

"We will offer a full scholarship between the two schools. I did the same for Karen Bass - full scholarship for our funds," Flynn said in the email obtained by the Times.

RELATED: Caruso claims Bass hacked campaign email in 'desperate attempt to change the discussion'

Bass said Wednesday that accepting that scholarship was "not bad judgment at all."

"I was offered that scholarship so that I could be a better legislator to take care of the nation's most vulnerable children," saying she applied for that scholarship, studied hard and got good grades. "I didn't apply for an MBA so that I could be a venture capitalist. It's a social work degree that was given to me on merit."

The candidates were also asked about corruption in City Hall, to which Caruso responded flatly - "The system is broken," he said. "And that's why we have the problems we have today. And the system quite frankly is corrupt. And with all due respect my opponent is a part of that system." 

Both Bass and Caruso said they would appoint a "czar" to oversee corruption in the mayor's office and City Hall to increase transparency.

By the end of the night, it was clear Bass and Caruso, while differing on how they want to solve issues in the city of LA, both acknowledge the severity of the problems facing the city. When asked what one word they'd use to describe the situation in Los Angeles they both responded: "Crisis."

The general election is on Nov. 8.