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L.A. mayoral candidate Rick Caruso responded on Tuesday to TV ads that compare him to Donald Trump, accusing the ads’ principal financial backer, mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, of “lying” about him.
The mayoral primary is just two weeks away, and polls show Caruso in a tight race against Karen Bass in a multi-candidate field. If no candidate secures a majority, the top two finishers will advance to a November runoff.
Katzenberg, a longtime Hollywood power broker and Democratic fundraiser, has contributed $600,000 to an independent committee supporting Bass, a Democratic congresswoman. In recent days, the committee has aired TV ads that call Caruso “a lifelong Republican” and a “fraud,” and quote a 2007 L.A. Times profile calling him “the Donald Trump of Los Angeles.”
“I’ve known Jeffrey for years,” Caruso told Variety on Tuesday. “I think when you lie about somebody, that’s not right. I’m very old-fashioned. I think lying is wrong. That’s for him to decide how he conducts his life and he’ll be judged by that.”
Caruso’s campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to a TV station last Thursday, arguing that the ads are false and should be taken down. Caruso was a Republican until 2011, when he changed his registration to “decline to state.” He re-registered as a Democrat in January, shortly before entering the mayoral race.
“This is not a partisan race,” Caruso said. “I’m the farthest thing from Donald Trump and everybody knows that. What we’re seeing is an act of desperation, and they’re trying to throw Hail Mary’s and nobody’s buying it.”
The independent committee, Communities United for Bass for LA Mayor 2022, has countered that the ads are fair, and they have continued to air. The chair of the committee, Morgan Miller, fired back at Caruso in a statement to Variety on Tuesday, accusing him of hiding his past opposition to abortion rights.
“The only person lying is Rick Caruso,” Miller said in a statement. “Rick Caruso does not share L.A.’s values and his efforts to silence the truth and bully the media into covering up facts are reminiscent of the tactics employed by Donald Trump. How can we trust someone that constantly lies to voters? Angelenos must reject this faux Democrat before it’s too late and before we elect the Donald Trump of Los Angeles.”
The committee’s ads fault Caruso for giving money to pro-life politicians in the past. Caruso has issued statements of support for abortion rights, and pledged to back a ballot measure to enshrine those rights in the California constitution.
A billionaire mall developer, Caruso has poured more than $30 million of his own money into his campaign, dwarfing the other candidates’ fundraising totals.
Bass has been looking to the entertainment industry to help keep her competitive. Last week, she held a fundraiser at Bad Robot Productions, which was co-chaired by J.J. Abrams, Katie McGrath, Shonda Rhimes, Lynn and Norman Lear, Damon and Heidi Lindelof, Nina Shaw, Christy Haubegger and Matt Johnson.
Caruso has been touting his own support from the industry. His latest endorsement came on Tuesday from Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the Kardashian clan, who broadcast her support to her 48 million Instagram followers. He has also recently picked up the endorsements of Snoop Dogg and music mogul Clarence Avant. Avant is the father of Nicole Avant, a former ambassador under President Obama and a Democratic fundraiser, and the father-in-law of Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
Sarandos and Avant are founding members of Caruso’s luxury club in Montecito, and the couple hosted a fundraiser for Caruso in February. Nicole Avant issued a statement to Variety on Tuesday explaining that her support for Caruso is rooted in his volunteer work in South L.A.
“I first came across Rick Caruso many times before we actually met,” Avant said in the statement. “I was working with my mother, Jacqueline Avant, in the communities of Watts and South Central Los Angeles and Rick and Tina were there too, doing the same work, with the same passion and towards the same goals — helping to bring opportunity and hope to overlooked communities and people. I’ve come to know Rick and his family on a personal level and they are dedicated to selfless service, driven by optimism and faith and for this reason, I think he’s the best candidate to serve as our Mayor of our great City of Los Angeles.”
Jacqueline Avant was shot and killed by an intruder at her Beverly Hills home in December. Nicole Avant did not cite that as a factor in her support for Caruso, who has made crime one of the top issues of his campaign. But Caruso did bring it up in his interview with Variety, saying that Jacqueline Avant was “brutally murdered” by a man with an extensive rap sheet.
“For Nicole to be supporting me is not only a powerful statement in terms of her confidence in me as a leader, but also in terms of tackling this crime problem we have in this city,” Caruso said. “There’s nobody I know that’s closer to the problem of having crime and lawlessness than her.”
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