Caruso, Bass exchange jabs in final stretch of L.A. mayoral race

Both candidates point to opponent’s links to scandals at USC

Karen Bass and Rick Caruso (Getty Images, Google Maps)
Karen Bass and Rick Caruso (Getty Images, Google Maps)

The final sprint toward the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office has turned ugly and personal.

With less than eight weeks until the November election, developer Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass are jabbing elbows at each other’s links to scandals at USC, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Caruso demanded Bass provide transparency on her dealings with an indicted USC administrator who gave the congresswoman a full-tuition scholarship before pushing for favorable legislation.

The demands came a day after The Times revealed federal prosecutors consider the circumstances surrounding Bass’s $95,000 scholarship “critical” and “relevant” to their public corruption case against the former USC administrator, Marilyn Flynn, and former L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Meanwhile, Bass released a new digital ad less than an hour after the Times story accusing Caruso of covering up sexual abuse at USC.

The mutual attacks came as both candidates criticized their opponent’s ties to the university during separate news conferences.

Flynn is charged for what prosecutors allege was a quid pro quo with Ridley-Thomas involving a scholarship awarded to his son in exchange for lucrative county contracts.

Although prosecutors have said Bass is not under criminal investigation, to bolster their case they’ve highlighted an email from Flynn in which she noted doing “the same” sort of scholarship-for-funding with Bass.

Caruso, citing The Times’ reporting, pointed to Bass’s scholarship as “corruption” during a news conference at the Grove shopping center, which his company Caruso owns. He insisted his opponent release “any emails and communications she’s had with the dean at the time.”

He also castigated the congresswoman for not listing the full $95,000 value of the scholarship in her annual financial disclosures until 2019, when Bass amended several years of filings to reflect the free tuition.

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“Our city is in a critical state. It cannot afford for the next mayor to govern under a cloud of corruption,” Caruso said.

Bass has blamed a former staffer for the errors but indicated she did not fully review the filings before they were submitted.

She pivoted to criticizing Caruso’s time as a member of USC’s board of trustees from 2007 to earlier this year. Bass said this period at USC coincided with “the ugliest chapter in its history.”

In 2018, The Times revealed that campus gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall had been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment. Hundreds of women filed lawsuits against USC, triggering an inquiry by the U.S. Department of Education.

Weeks later, Caruso was asked to chair the board of trustees, and he is widely credited for volunteering to help steer the university out of crisis. Among his first acts was announcing an investigation by an outside law firm.
During Caruso’s tenure as chair, USC agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to former patients of Tyndall.

Caruso later indicated that he planned to release the firm’s findings, but didn’t. This year, he said that there was nothing written to release because the law firm hired to investigate had briefed him and other trustees orally.

“He promised a full and transparent investigation,” Bass said. “But then no report was ever released.

“Who is Rick Caruso to tell the survivors of sexual assault that they are not entitled to the truth about what happened to them?” she asked.

— Dana Bartholomew

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