Caruso declares as Dem with mayoral primary looming

Renowned retail developer picks party with five months until vote, says he “won’t be a typical Democrat”

Billionaire businessman Rick Caruso (Getty Images, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
Billionaire businessman Rick Caruso (Getty Images, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

One of the biggest names in Southern California real estate appears to be gearing up for a high-profile mayoral run.

Rick Caruso, the billionaire developer behind major commercial projects such as The Grove, The Americana at Brand and Palisades Village, declared on Monday that he was registering to vote as a Democrat. The move is the latest indication that Caruso plans to jump into Los Angeles’s crowded mayoral race.

The developer outlined his decision in a letter, posted to social media, that doubled as an obvious — if short of explicit — pitch for the city’s top job.

“What kind of Democrat will I be? I won’t be a typical Democrat, that’s for sure,” Caruso wrote. “I will be a pro-centrist, pro-jobs, pro-public safety Democrat.”

The 63-year-old Caruso spent most of his life as a Republican but has had no party affiliation for over a decade. His decision to switch parties now, he wrote, was strongly influenced by the January 6, 2021 rightwing insurrection against the U.S. Capitol, an attack that has been all but condoned by many high-ranking Republicans.

“In short, because our upcoming elections in 2022 and 2024 will be existential for our democracy, now is the time for me to take a side,” Caruso wrote. “Today I am registering as a Democrat so that I can stand firmly on the side of the fundamental values that we will all need to invoke and enforce to thwart the coming attacks on our democracy.”

But timing, of course, is everything: Los Angeles’s mayoral primary is now less than five months away, and Caruso has been strongly hinting he might contend for the position since last summer. While the office and election are officially nonpartisan, the city’s electorate and especially its field of elected officials is overwhelmingly Democratic. Caruso’s late-stage affiliation with the party could work to his advantage–or at a minimum inoculate him from attempts to tie him to the Republican Party based on his erstwhile registration status.

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Under the city’s two-round vote system, a candidate who receives a majority of the vote in the June primary would win outright; if no candidate receives a majority, the top two candidates, regardless of party, face off in the November general election.

Caruso’s entry to the race — not yet official — would add a thick layer of drama and real estate intrigue into an already crowded field. Elected officials in the running include Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass; two city councilmembers, Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino; and City Attorney Mike Feuer. All are Democrats.

The business community so far has produced two candidates, both with real estate ties and each so far a minor presence: Mel Wilson, a residential realtor from the San Fernando Valley; and second-generation commercial real estate executive Asher Luzzato, whose family-owned firm is based in the Fairfax district.

Caruso, a longtime power broker and mogul known for his high-end lifestyle — which includes a 216-foot yacht — has often flirted with political races, including the 2013 mayor’s contest, although he ultimately sat out that campaign. He has held unelected positions, including on the board of the Department of Water and Power. Like many developers, he has also donated to campaigns and PACs representing both major political parties, including those of Gov. Gavin Newsom and former President George W. Bush.

In the letter posted today, Caruso also emphasized his grandparents’ immigrant history and classic Democratic values of fairness and opportunity.

“The Democrat ideals I believe in,” he added, “demand hard work, responsibility and accountability — and most importantly, uplifting our working and middle classes to give them a shot at the American Dream.”

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Rick Caruso (Getty, iStock)
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