LA mayoral race: Who might top candidates be, and what issues matter most to voters?

By Christian Bordal and Kathryn Barnes

The election to replace LA Mayor Eric Garcetti is months away, but there’s already plenty of action in the race. This week, City Councilmember Kevin de León and Jessica Lall, president and chief executive of the Central City Association, threw their hats in the ring. They join City Councilmember Joe Buscaino and City Attorney Mike Feuer. Congresswoman Karen Bass says she is also “seriously considering” a run.

Former LA City Councilmember Jan Perry says it’s shaping up to be a competitive race, and the winner will be the most energetic campaigner. 

“The way our rules are structured here in the city, you can't have somebody hand over special interest money. So you will have to be on the phone raising money. And that happens on a daily basis. It's a very big, broad undertaking, and looks like it could be a brawl,” she says.

Latinos will be an important constituency, according to Fernando Guerra, professor of political science and director of the Center of the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. They constitute roughly half of the city population, and make up about a third of its registered voters. 

Guerra says the candidate most identified with Latinos is LA City Councilmember Kevin de León.

“He represents what one would say [is] the heart of the Mexican American community in Los Angeles — Boyle Heights. And he has had a long affiliation with community organizations, community advocacy groups that are Latino,” he says.

Feuer could also bring the fire. Guerra says he's the only candidate who's won a citywide office, and won it twice. 

But Guerra points out that the field is not yet complete. In addition to Congresswoman Karen Bass considering a run, former LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and mega developer Rick Caruso may still get in the race.

What are voters going to be looking for? According to recent polls, Guerra says homelessness is at the top of the list. 

“Number two is the post-pandemic: What's the city going to look like? How do you respond? How do you get LAPD and the Fire Department employees to take the vaccine? Number three, climate change. Number four, housing … also mobility, economic development, the creation of jobs. … There are plenty of issues to discuss. But clearly, number one that's going to be discussed between now, in June, and even into November of next year, is going to be homelessness,” he says.

Perry agrees, noting that candidates better come with a well-articulated plan on how to address homelessness, and how to pay for it. “We're beyond talking about ideas,” she says. “Whoever gets elected is going to have to hit the ground running the day they get sworn in. There's not going to be any time for learning on the job.”

The primary election is scheduled for June 7, 2022. A candidate with more than 50% of the vote would be the outright winner, though Guerra and Perry agree that with so many strong candidates, that’s unlikely, in which case a two-way runoff will take place in November 2022. 

Perry is not ready to make predictions about who those two might be, but Guerra expects the leading candidates will be Karen Bass and Kevin de León. “They have the name recognition, and he's going to have the money. They're going to have the support from significant interest groups. They're clearly the favorites, with Mike Feuer right behind.”