Bass, Caruso lead LA mayor race as candidates make last-minute appeals to AAPI community

Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso

ON June 7, voters for the City of Los Angeles will have the chance to elect a new mayor in the primary election, and as of press time, at least nine candidates are still in the running.

This month, during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), candidates have been making last-ditch efforts to appeal to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, who make up 1 in 10 voters in LA.

Per election rules, if no single candidate receives more than half the vote to secure an outright win in the June 7 primary, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in the run-off election in November.

In terms of media coverage, fundraising, and longevity in legislation, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) leads the field. Still, real-estate billionaire Rick Caruso continues to surge in the polls after an unprecedented campaign spending bout.

In addition to Bass and Caruso, other candidates for mayor include LA City Councilmember Kevin de Leon, progressive community activist Gina Viola and campaign strategist Alex Gruenenfelder.

Despite not attending many of the mayoral forums, panels and debates — including a raucous mayoral forum hosted by LA’s AAPI community on April 29 — Caruso continues to rise in local polls.

A poll from UC Berkeley released on Monday, May 23 found that Caruso and Bass are tied for first with de Leon at a distant third at 6% and all other candidates at 2% or less.

A survey commissioned by a group supporting Bass was released on Friday, May 20, which showed that 37% of likely voters support Caruso while 35% favored Bass among the entire field of candidates. However, between just Bass and Caruso, 48% of voters preferred the congresswoman over the business mogul (39%).

(Bass has been a staunch Democrat her entire career while Caruso, previously a registered Republican, recently changed his affiliation to the Democratic Party in January.)

Bass, who was first elected to public office in 2004, said that as a life-long Angeleno, she recalls working with Asian American communities in her social justice work, notably getting “very involved in the solidarity movement against the Marcos regime” as a college student, she noted at the April 29 forum.

She also spoke of her work in addressing and co-signing more funding toward protecting the Asian American community, including pushing for wage equity and Asian-language outreach in the Covid-19 relief fund.

“Congresswoman Bass is the one for us because she always goes the extra mile to make sure that we are included,” Marilou Bonifacio, a Filipina American caregiver and member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told the Asian Journal.

“Lots of candidates will do the bare minimum when they meet with Asian American [voters] but congresswoman Bass actually does the work: she listens to our communities and fights for us in Washington, and she does it for other communities, too,” Bonifacio said.

Caruso — who recently funneled $10 million of his own fortune into his campaign — spoke with Korean American community members last week when he promised to increase support from the city to small business leaders.

“People are working hard every day to pay their rent, put food on the table,” Caruso said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “When there’s a smash-and-grab [robbery], for small businesses, who do they turn to for help?”

Although she’s toward the back of the pack, according to polls, Viola — a first-time candidate — has been rallying younger Asian American voters who want to see more progressive values represented in local government.

The keystone to Viola’s campaign includes implementing the People’s Budget of LA, which seeks to divert city funds from law enforcement to community programs and education as a way to better protect vulnerable communities, including Asian elders, she said.

“Our campaign was to kick off a renaissance in Los Angeles, breaking life back into a city that has defined what progressive and artistic culture likes like for the rest of the world,” Viola said. “I’m running to be mayor because in the end, I had no one to vote for who represented the ideals that our community that values investment in systems of care over the carceral state.”

Most recently, businessman Ramit Varma unofficially withdrew from the race on Monday, May 23 and endorsed Caruso. Previously, LA City Councilmember Joe Busaino unofficially withdrew and endorsed Caruso while LA City Attorney Mike Feuer dropped out and endorsed Bass.

The primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 7, which is also the deadline for mail-in registration and in-person registration. Early voting ends June 6, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. n

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at k.medenilla@asianjournalinc.com.

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