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Los Angeles mayor's election: Fear of crime and homelessness

Los Angeles' next mayor can be summarized into one question: Who is going to fix this mess?

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Los Angeles mayor's election: Fear of crime and homelessness

Tourists still flock Hollywood's Walk of Fame. The palm trees soar along Sunset Boulevard. And the Los Angeles Rams are Super Bowl champs. In many ways, however, the nation's second-most populous city feels diminished.

Everyday, a growing homeless crisis is raging on the streets. Sometimes with fatal consequences. An increasing crime rate, highlighted by home invasions and smash–and-grab thefts from luxury stores, has contributed to a growing sense of civic disorder. Many streets and sidewalks are falling apart.

City Hall has been tarnished by scandals of corruption and sexual harassment. Many yearn for normalcy, two years after the outbreak of the pandemic. It is telling that a region once associated in stratospheric growth has lost population. This is partly due to frustrated residents who decide that a better future is elsewhere.

The question is whether LA should abandon its liberal roots and embrace a candidate who places a strong emphasis upon public safety as voters begin to evaluate a large and diverse group of candidates to replace Eric Garcetti, the beleaguered two-term Democratic mayor. New York City is in similar circumstances, and voters last fall elected ex-police Capt. Eric Adams was elected their mayor.

The direction of the national Democratic party can be predicted by what happens in New York, LA, and other large cities.

Raphael Sonenshein (executive director, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, California State University, Los Angeles) stated that "these big cities are all Democratic strongholds but they're far from monolithic." "At least theoretically, this year offers some opportunities for candidates who are most critical of the system and political structure."

Last week was deadline for candidates to register for the race. June 7th is the primary. A runoff between the two top finishers would take place in November if no candidate wins a majority, which is likely considering there are more than twenty people in the race.

The race is currently nonpartisan and there is no clear winner. However, all the top contenders are Democrats.

U.S. might have been the overwhelming favorite in a different year. Rep. Karen Bass is a well-known figure in the party's progressive wings and was on President Joe Biden’s shortlist when he was looking for a vice president pick. Her election would be a landmark: She hopes to become the first Black woman and second mayor of the city, following Tom Bradley who held it from 1973 to 1993.

Bass must gain support from beyond her congressional district. Bass's recently announced plans for more police on the streets were a sign of her unsteadiness.

The entry last week by billionaire Rick Caruso into the race was a business-friendly political centrist who is known for his high-end shopping centers and has reordered it to give voters a completely different choice. The former Republican, who has recently become a Democrat, is running as an outsider and wants to increase the number of police officers by investing tens to millions of dollars of his own money. He blames the people in office for allowing the city's problems to continue.

However, most voters don't know much about Caruso. There are many challenges that come with being a white millionaire with a nine-bedroom megayachtin an eclectic city with a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Forbes magazine puts his wealth at $4.3Billion. His campaign website describes him as the grandson and great-grandson of Italian immigrants. He is also a philanthropist with deep community connections who served on many government commissions, including the presidency of the city's Police Commission.

Caruso stated that residents are "scared" during a short interview with The Associated Press. They are fed up. Imagine running a small business, worrying about crime and having a homeless encampment right in front of you.

Other potential candidates include Joe Buscaino (city councilman), a former officer who is pushing for an expanded police force; Kevin de Leon (councilman), a former leader in the state Senate and the most prominent Latino candidate on the ballot in a municipality that is approximately half Hispanic; Mike Feuer, City Attorney, who has made gun violence prevention a priority.

There is a lot of anxiety about unsafe streets that is similar to 1993 when LA voters elected Republican Richard Riordan as their leader. This was after the 1992 riots in which four white officers were acquitted for assaulting Rodney King, a Black motorist. This is also reminiscent of New York City's early 1990s when crime perceptions were high and helped to elect Rudy Giuliani as the Republican Mayor.

Los Angeles is a vastly different place than it was in Riordan's time. It is more Latino, less White, and more Democratic. Only 13% of voters are Republicans, while Democrats make up nearly 60%. Most of the rest of the independents lean Democratic.

Homelessness is the greatest problem. There are approximately 41,000 people living on the streets of cities, which is roughly the same number as the North Miami Beach population.

Two murders were committed by homeless men with lengthy arrest records in recent weeks. A 70-year-old victim was killed in a punching attack at a bus stop, while a 24-year-old graduate student was attacked and stabbed to death in a shop. Advocates were concerned that public outrage about the crimes could lead to a more vulnerable population. They noted that people who live on the streets are more likely to be victims than the perpetrators.

Permanent housing is needed, but it isn't yet available. This should be paired with services for people with mental illness and chronic drug addiction, according to John Maceri, of People Concern, which is one of L.A.’s largest non-profits that serves the homeless.

A system that would allow these units to be built quickly and with accountability is also lacking. Maceri stated that people who live in temporary housing are still homeless.

Activists opposing plans to increase police force are already resisting proposals to do so.

Joel Kotkin is an urbanist and a presidential fellow at Urban Futures at Chapman University. He has lived in Los Angeles for over 40 years. One of the most persistent problems in the city is the decline of the middle class. It thrived for many decades, aided by unionized jobs in entertainment and aerospace.

He said that people came to the area, bought houses, raised families, and sent their children to public schools.

Many of these jobs have disappeared, leaving behind a so-called barbell economy that consists of both the well-to-do and the working classes.

Kotkin stated that "the whole middle section of Los Angeles, which was really the greatest thing about L.A.'s, has disappeared."


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