Opinion: Billionaire mayoral candidates ineligible to represent the interests of Los Angeles voters

A billionaire who made his fortune developing luxury real estate is running for office.

We hope that we have learned from the mistakes of the past.

Rick Caruso, the billionaire developer behind real estate including The Grove, is now at the top of the Los Angeles municipal race, according to a new poll published by the UC Berkeley Institute of Government and the Los Angeles Times.

His support has grown rapidly since entering the race in early February, thanks in part to the campaign’s huge spending on catchy ads that blanketed the Los Angeles area with the slogan “Caruso Can!” With a staggering $23 million in contributions as of April 23, of which $10 million came from his own pocket, Caruso has raised more money than all of the other 11 candidates combined.

Uber rich are not equipped to understand Angelenos’ daily struggles as they are left out of the day-to-day problems many of us face. Home prices in Westwood are up 28% over last year, to nearly $3,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. Stressed students already bear the costs of decisions – or not being made – that are made at City Hall.

Meanwhile, Caruso could have rented the one-bedroom Westwood apartment for at least 59,000 years and still had half of his net worth left. For an election that will have dramatic effects on the affordability of housing, transportation and police, we simply cannot trust a billionaire developer to understand, let alone advance, our interests.

Homelessness is the dominant issue in the Los Angeles mayors race — and for good reason. In 2020, there were 41,290 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. When asked about his plans to tackle the city’s homelessness crisis at the March mayor debate, Caruso said he would immediately build 30,000 beds to house those currently on the street and develop affordable housing to help those on the verge of homelessness. He advertises himself as being uniquely positioned to solve these problems by utilizing the skills he has honed as a business leader – in other words, “Caruso Can!”

But if Caruso can, he won’t.

Caruso’s current developments include 10 shopping malls and four luxury apartment complexes. For someone who is very passionate about building affordable housing for low-income Angelenos, he focuses almost exclusively on residents who can afford luxury living.

When Caruso was in the private sector and had the finances, connections and ability to build affordable housing, he turned to luxury apartments and malls rather than projects that would help members of the community who really needed his support.

It’s hard to imagine that after years of not building affordable housing, he’ll suddenly change his mind once a mayor is elected.

Caruso continues to promote his background in the private sector and insult current politicians in Los Angeles.

“It is hard to believe that the same group of politicians who have allowed our city to become unsafe, corrupt and cruel to people living on the streets can solve any problem we face,” Caruso said in an emailed statement. “We have an unprecedented crisis that requires strong leaders with proven track records in managing complex public and private institutions as well as finding innovative housing construction solutions for our residents.”

This view is not unique to Caruso or Los Angeles, and is a common rationale for businessmen in politics – the paradoxical idea that they qualify because of their lack of political experience. Supporters advertise these political aliens as politicians who will “get things done” and use the skills they have learned in the private sector to run the United States like a business.

That is, a business in which consumers pay the costs and the shareholders receive the rewards.

The successful campaigns of candidates such as Donald Trump, Mike Bloomberg and Mitt Romney show that this narrative can be successful, and voters respond well to businessmen entering politics. With public confidence in the government recovering slightly from historic lows, voters could look to candidates like these as an escape from mainstream politicians. More important to Caruso, however, is whether this message will resonate in Los Angeles.

First-year theater student Brianna Yee said that although she hasn’t followed the mayoral race closely, she doesn’t think wealthy people in general are the best politicians.

Other students share Yi’s feelings. They do not closely follow the fast-approaching primary but are generally skeptical about the candidacy of a wealthy developer.

Third-year environmental science student Madeline Harris said she fears candidates like Caruso are not in the race for the right reasons and are far from the average Los Angeles voter.

“Do they (the developers) really know their community, or are they just people who have money and live in that community?” Harris said.

This does not mean that there should not be businessmen in politics. Business owners undoubtedly bring a valuable perspective to the government. But when it comes to housing insecurity and homelessness, it’s time for luxury real estate developers to realize that they are the problem, not the solution.

Their presence is certainly not the time for them to find out.

The richest members of society lack the background and experience to be attuned to what our societies really need. In a democracy based on representation, leaders must mirror the people, and billionaires simply do not.

Caruso – and all the other wealthy politicians – will do an amazing job representing their fellow billionaires.

The problem is that the rest of us are not billionaires.

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