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Mayor Caruso? Dream On!

Jun 2, 2008

Rick Caruso, retail genius – ok. But Rick Caruso, mayor of Los Angeles?

C'mon! It ain't gonna happen.

The blogosphere has been burning up for a month with the idea that Caruso – developer of The Grove on the Westside and, more recently, The Americana on Brand in Glendale – will run against incumbent Antonio Villaraigosa next year. The L.A. Times finally gave the rumor credence last Friday – not in the news or politics columns, but oddly in Tina Daunt's entertainment column. Daunt's story was cast as an article about celebrity fundraising for the Villaraigosa campaign.

Caruso is clearly flattered by the idea and isn't doing anything to discourage the rumors. And a Villaraigosa-Caruso race would be a haberdasher's dream. Along with the Obama candidacy, the mayoral race might bring back the well-fitting suit and crisply pressed suit from oblivion.

But is Caruso really gonna run? Unlikely. In fact, it doesn't look like anybody is going to seriously challenge Antonio in his re-election run -- even with his highly publicized marital problems. Zev Yaroslavsky's been making high-profile anti-density noise aimed at Villaraigosa, but he hasn't made any obvious move toward actually running.

It's always tempting to think that a sharp business executive with money can become an effective politician. And it's especially tempting when that sharp business executive is familiar with politics – as Caruso must be in order to get the entitlements and redevelopment subsidies he needs to thrive in his business.

The closest analogy would be Richard Riordan, the downtown lawyer, redevelopment maven, and land speculator who was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1993 and served for two pretty respectable terms. Riordan was theoretically vulnerable in political terms on his downtown land dealings, which weren't very pretty to look at. But he spent a lot of money. He was running for an open seat vacated by Tom Bradley, whom he loyally served. And he was lucky enough to draw a weak opponent in City Councilmember (and urban planner) Mike Woo.

Caruso, on the other hand, would be running against the modern equivalent of Bradley. And he's probably too smart to do that. Surely he understands that challenging the high-profile and charismatic incumbent mayor of the largest and most powerful city in his market area is probably not a good way to keep that political support. Imagine if he lost! You'd never see another Caruso project in Los Angeles again – and Villaraigosa would use all his political leverage to make sure that suburban cities shut Caruso down too.

Too bad in a way. After all, they both look great in a sharp suit.

-- Bill Fulton