Real estate reset as LA’s mayoral money game goes to runoff

Caruso, Bass square off for general election, donors to candidates vanquished in primary up for grabs

From left: Mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Karen Bass (Getty Images/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
From left: Mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Karen Bass (Getty Images/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

Los Angeles’ high-impact mayoral race is now officially headed to a runoff, where the billionaire mall magnate Rick Caruso will face off against Congresswoman Karen Bass.

That means a whole new round of political donations — only this time with higher stakes.

In the months leading up to Tuesday’s primary, members of the real estate industry had put serious money behind all three major candidates: According to a TRD analysis published last month, through late April Bass, originally presumed the race’s frontrunner, took in at least $101,000 in donations from the industry. Los Angeles councilmember Kevin de León — a long-established Democratic politician whose mayoral campaign never really took off — accepted at least $172,000.

Caruso has poured tens of millions of dollars of his own fortune into his campaign – a move that’s become obvious to anyone in L.A. knows who has seen a television or news site or Facebook or YouTube in the past several months. But he also took in at least $83,000, by TRD’s analysis, from other industry players, including bigshots such as Peter Morton, Geoff Palmer and Branden and Rayni Williams.

So where will real estate cash go now that the field has finally narrowed to just two?

The consensus is that more will flow to the mall developer.

“I gave him some more a couple weeks ago, and I will donate more,” said the Westside Estate Agency cofounder Stephen Shapiro. “I’m going to go with the max, and my wife will go with the max as well.”

That max is $1,500 per person for the general election, the same as it was for the primary. It’s a tiny figure compared to Caruso’s own contributions, which to date have totalled more than $37.5 million. But that’s not the point, according to supporters.

“It’s more symbolic,” added Shapiro. “He wants to build a groundswell of support.”

Another Caruso supporter, the developer Richard Weintraub, who gave $1,000 to the candidate before the primary, told TRD he wasn’t sure yet if he would donate again. But he did see Caruso’s background, and message, connecting with the real estate community. He also mentioned his own property values, which he said are being challenged by the poor state of the city — a theme no doubt shared by many in the industry.

“I think he is a successful businessperson who is a successful real estate developer who understands intrinsically the value of having a city that is clean and safe and well run for everyone,” Weitnraub said.

“I think it’s more about his platform,” he added, referencing Caruso’s industry support, “and ‘He’s a real estate guy.’”

Yet Bass’ previous industry-related donors — a group that includes executives such as Diann Viox, a manager at the Los Angeles County Development Authority and Jackie Dupont-Walker, the founding president of the Ward Economic Development Corporation, along with brokers, investors and property managers — are also likely to dip in again. (Perhaps especially because, after spending months as the presumed frontrunner, early returns indicated she needs the support, with Caruso winning the primary by five points.)

And donors who gave to losing candidates, meanwhile, also now have a chance to jump ship.

Before he dropped out last month, Mike Feuer, the L.A. City Attorney, collected $2.6 million in roughly 2,000 total contributions for his primary campaign. That included dozens of contributions from real estate-affiliated donors, totalling more than $70,000, including real estate investor Robert Champion ($1,000); the developer Sonny Astani ($1,500) and Richard Moss, of Moss Group ($1,500).

Feuer endorsed Bass, making her a likely candidate for any carryover donations from donors who backed him in the first round. Another eliminated candidate, the City Councilman Joe Buscaino, endorsed Caruso: Of more than $1.3 million in donations to Buscaino’s mayoral campaign, more than $90,000 came from real estate — including maximum contributions from the developers Matthew Eskander and Grant Van Every and three members of the Cusumano family, which operates the San Fernando Valley-based property management firm Cusumano Real Estate Group.

Of De León’s total $2.3 million raised by late April, $172,000 had come from real estate players — the highest figure of any of the three major candidates, according to TRD’s analysis. Those donations included at least $53,000 from developers and the development industry, including big names such as Robert Koerner, a principal at the national workforce housing developer Standard Communities, and Brett Dedeaux, president of the industrial firm Dedeaux Properties.

De León, after finishing a distant third in the primary, has so far not endorsed a candidate, although he’s more ideologically aligned with Bass than Caruso. Many donors, in any case, were already hedging their bets: In late February Dedeaux, two months after donating $1,500 De León, also gave $100 to Caruso. (Dedeaux did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

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