High stakes primary races taking place on Tuesday in California are expected to have major consequences for police reform, incarceration, and the state’s growing homelessness crisis.
The most closely watched race is the mayor’s contest in Los Angeles, where voters are deciding between a tough-on-crime real estate developer, Rick Caruso, who has already poured nearly $40m of his own fortune into his primary campaign, e the former community organizer and Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass.
In San Francisco, the city’s progressive prosecutor, Chesa Boudin, è facing a recall election that could have a major impact on movements for criminal justice reform across the US.
Midway through a tense midterm elections year, the races are likely to serve as a litmus test for Democrats and progressives. Analysts are watching to see if the majority of voters in some of America’s most ostensibly liberal cities decide to reject attempts to reduce mass incarceration and address the stark racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The role of the police in public safety is one of the key issues up and down the ballot, with younger progressive candidates who support defunding the police challenging older centrist Democrats in several Gli angeli city council races.
Bass, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, supports police reform and a modest increase in Los Angeles police department staffing; Caruso has pledged to put an additional 1,500 officers on the street.
Both Bass and Caruso have promised to put an end to people sleeping on the street in Los Angeles. Caruso has expressed willingness to arrest unhoused people who refuse to move to a city-provided shelter bed, and has also praised an army camp for undocumented children at the Texas border as a good model for how to deal with the city’s homelessness crisis.
For some Los Angeles progressives, Bass’ more centrist positions on policing and homelessness have been a disappointment. Two years George Floyd’s murder by police sparked worldwide protests, some activists see Bass’ endorsement of putting more police on the street as a step backwards.
“She’s losing the enthusiasm of folks on the left, and I think that is a miscalculation,” said Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Gli angeli, who endorsed Gina Viola, a local activist running to Bass’ left, for mayor.
The role of massive personal fortunes in public elections have also become a central issue in California’s primary campaigns. The attempt to recall Boudin, a central figure in the movement to elect prosecutors who want to make the legal system less punitive and racist, è reportedly essendo funded by ultra-wealthy donors, many of them in the tech industry, Compreso: Ron Conway, an early DoorDash investor; Garry Tan, an Instacart investor; and David Sacks, a former PayPal executive.
The result of the attempt to recall Boudin in San Francisco will “affect whether prosecutors elsewhere feel emboldened to take new approaches or whether they will perceive that as a political risk”, said Sandra Mayson, a University of Pennsylvania law professor.
Political spending on the Los Angeles mayoral primary has already topped $50m, with Caruso’s campaign spending more than $40m of that. Bass’ campaign has spent $3m, in contrasto, and a local police union has spent a similar amount on advertisement opposing her candidacy.
Di venerdì, Elon Musk, one of the richest men in the world, tweeted his public endorsement of Caruso, who himself is ranked No 261 on Forbes’ list of richest Americans. “He’s awesome,” Musk wrote. “Executive competence is super underrated in politics – we should care about that a lot more!"
Caruso, a real estate developer with an estimated net worth of $4bn, has used at least $38m of his own money to move to the front of a crowded nonpartisan primary field, a number that has already broken every previous record for mayor’s races in Los Angeles, local experts said. The billionaire’s personal fortune has funded a barrage of attractive television ads and mailers touting his candidacy, even as Caruso has skipped some mayoral debates, and largely avoided engaging with the press or holding open public events.
Bass and then Caruso took an early lead in mayoral polls, leading other mayoral primary contenders to drop out of the race, though some, ad esempio Kevin de Leon, a current city council member, continue to fight on.
Heading into Tuesday, polls showed Bass and Caruso closely matched in terms of voter support, setting up the possibility that neither would surpass the 50% vote threshold needed to win outright. In that case, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election in November, a result that is expected to generate millions more in political spending from Caruso and from Bass’ progressive backers in Hollywood.