The longtime civic leader fits the profile of successful power brokers in the city’s past. Will that kind of résumé succeed in the present?
Rick J. Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer and longtime civic figure, jumped into the race for mayor of Los Angeles on Friday, shaking up a crowded field for the top job in the nation’s second-largest city after more than a decade of flirting with a run.
Mr. Caruso, 63, whose candidacy had for the past year been a subject of intense speculation, filed a declaration that he would run with the city clerk hours before the deadline and is expected to make a formal announcement next week.
“It’s a very meaningful day for me and my family,” he told a small group of reporters standing in the breezeway of a city building in an industrial section of downtown. “I love Los Angeles, I love the diversity of Los Angeles. I’m eager to be a part of this.”
His brief statement was initially drowned out by a protester who shouted profanity-laced criticism, and that Angelenos “don’t want a billionaire mayor.”
Mr. Caruso is known for signature outdoor shopping centers designed with Disney-esque nostalgia and attention to detail, as well as for his roles in steering a lengthy list of civic institutions.
His fortune has been viewed as a powerful asset in a market where mounting a credible campaign can be enormously expensive, and his résumé, which includes serving as head of the city’s Police Commission and chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Southern California, evokes an older generation of Los Angeles power brokers.
Those figures include Eli Broad, the businessman and philanthropist who died last year after putting his stamp on Los Angeles’s cultural and civic life, and Richard Riordan, an investment banker who was elected mayor in the tumultuous aftermath of the 1992 riots. Mr. Caruso’s experience and wealth give him the potential to serve as a more conservative alternative in a field that leans left.
But Mr. Caruso’s candidacy for the officially nonpartisan post of mayor will face a political dynamic that has undergone substantial change over the past generation. Many people say the appetite for that style of leadership has waned in Los Angeles, a vast, racially diverse metropolis where the symptoms of gaping economic inequality — from the heavy toll of the pandemic on poorer Black and Latino residents to the city’s monumental housing crisis — have become consuming challenges.
And political observers say that two factors are likely to significantly amplify voter turnout among underrepresented groups like renters, young adults, Latinos and Asians: the timing of the election, coinciding with the national midterms, and a revamped system that will mail ballots to every active, registered voter.
“The electorate in 1993 is completely dissimilar to the electorate in 2022,” said Sonja Diaz, the director of the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We’re talking about two different Los Angeleses.”
Homelessness — along with the constellation of thorny issues it touches, including crime, public health, transit, the cost of living and the environment — is likely to be a dominant concern.
The contest is already stacked with big-name contenders, all Democrats, seeking to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is awaiting Senate confirmation to become U.S. ambassador to India and cannot run again after serving the maximum two terms.
Representative Karen Bass, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who was on President Biden’s short list for vice president, has perhaps the broadest base of support in the city, where she started as a community organizer in the 1990s. She has backing both from progressive activists and from members of the political establishment.
Kevin de León, a councilman and former State Senate leader, is another well-known progressive in the race; he has touted his background as a son of Guatemalan immigrants in a city that is 49 percent Latino.
Joe Buscaino, a city councilman and a former police officer, has tried to position himself as a moderate, in the vein of New York’s new mayor, Eric Adams.
Mr. Buscaino and Mr. Caruso could find themselves fighting for many of the same voters, in a race that is likely to require a runoff after a June 7 primary. But at least one of the announced candidates, the local business leader Jessica Lall, will not be on the ballot; as speculation mounted that Mr. Caruso was about to enter the race, she announced on Tuesday that she was dropping out.
The general election will be held Nov. 8.
A former Republican in a city that is now overwhelmingly Democratic, Mr. Caruso announced in late January that he would register as a Democrat, and no longer be listed in the rolls without a party preference.
“I won’t be a typical Democrat, that’s for sure,” he wrote in the statement. “I will be a pro-centrist, pro-jobs, pro-public safety Democrat.”
He has enlisted help from some of the state’s top Democratic political strategists, including the consultants who led Gov. Gavin Newsom’s successful campaign to keep his job last year in a contentious recall election.
The grandson of Italian immigrants who grew up in Beverly Hills, Mr. Caruso has become known for properties — including the Grove in Los Angeles and the Americana at Brand in neighboring Glendale — that present a vision of Southern California that is clean, polished and tightly controlled. Streetcars trundle jauntily past fountains, sidewalk cafes and luxury stores where security guards stand sentry.
In television interviews late last year, Mr. Caruso said a flash mob robbery at The Grove was the fault of efforts to “defund the cops,” drawing condemnation from activists who said developers have an incentive to protect their property rather than address the root causes of crime.
Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, said the mayoral election could turn less on policy ideas than on perceptions of leadership.
“The voters aren’t necessarily looking for somebody who has the best solution,” he said. “They want somebody who can take whatever solution and make it work.”