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By Benjamin Oreskes

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino dropped out of the mayor's race on Thursday and threw his support behind billionaire developer Rick Caruso.

Buscaino, a former L.A. police officer and one of the contest's earliest entrants, saw the message he planned to run on — homelessness and public safety — seized by Caruso after he entered the race.

Both had been running on a platform of cleaning up the city's streets with an intense focus on quickly expanding shelter for homeless people and aggressively clearing encampments. Both also advocated hiring 1,500 new police officers and supporting the recall of District Attorney George Gascón.

"Rick and I agree on the playbook to solve the city's pressing issues," Buscaino said in a statement. "Today's decision did not come easy, but the future of Los Angeles is my priority. Together we will make Los Angeles cleaner and safer for all."

With less than four weeks remaining until the June 7 primary, Buscaino's departure could provide a boost to Caruso, allowing him to consolidate the support of Angelenos who feel that the city has been too lax in preventing homeless encampments from sprouting up on city streets. The homelessness crisis and upticks in crime were the two issues that both candidates have been focusing on.

Despite his best efforts, Buscaino's mayoral candidacy never took hold. In Los Angeles Times polling over the last several months, he has never garnered more than 4% of support among likely voters. A poll last month found that just 1% of likely voters backed him.

On the council he has been a loud — and sometimes lonely — voice in saying that the city needed to make anti-camping ordinances more stringent and exit the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. He also pushed for a ballot measure to accompany his candidacy that would have prohibited people from sleeping or camping on sidewalks and other public spaces if they have turned down offers of shelter or emergency housing.

His allies stopped collecting signatures for this measure after the city announced a proposed settlement in a federal lawsuit about homelessness.

Since he launched his campaign in March 2021, Buscaino, who represents San Pedro, Watts and other neighborhoods, raised about $1.3 million and spent about $750,000. The ballot measure that he had supported, which was separate from his mayoral campaign, raised just over a million dollars.

While the two candidates shared many of the same policy positions, Buscaino and his political consultants regularly attacked Caruso.

Even before Buscaino entered the race, his campaign strategist, Michael Trujillo, repeatedly highlighted Caruso's campaign donations to Republican candidates. Trujillo also targeted Caruso's time as chairman of the University of Southern California's board of trustees, saying the mall developer had "legit destroyed a powerful university."

"I'm just a good ol' fashion common sense democrat trying to prevent Rick Caruso from running," Trujillo posted last year.

During the first televised debate that included Caruso, Buscaino mocked him for not showing up for other candidate forums and town halls.

Caruso later attacked Buscaino, citing a Times article about how he has spent tens of thousands of dollars from his officeholder account on trips to Hawaii, Italy and elsewhere for his family since he was elected. The spending, which is allowed under city ethics rules, far exceeds the amount spent by other elected city officials on travel for family members during this period.

In order to run for mayor, Buscaino chose not seek a third and final term on the council, which he likely would have won easily.

"I have tremendous respect for Joe and his deep commitment to the people of Los Angeles," Caruso said in a statement. "I'm honored to have his endorsement and look forward to his counsel on issues like homelessness and criminal justice. Los Angeles is suffering, and working with Joe, I know we can clean up L.A."

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(Los Angeles Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.)

———

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Dive Deeper:
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Get all your news in one place