'The whole city is in limbo': Anxious wait as Bass, Caruso's ballots are counted for Los Angeles mayor

‘The whole city is in limbo’: Anxious wait as Bass, Caruso’s ballots are counted for Los Angeles mayor

Rick Caruso and Karen Bass both affirmed their optimism on Wednesday about an eventual victory in the Los Angeles mayoral race, both saying they would not let the slowly unfolding tabulation get in the way of their plans for a quick transition to the highest post in the city.

The lead in the contest changed hands several times after polls closed on Tuesday, with Caruso narrowly ahead of the latest update from election officials on Wednesday morning. But analysts said the race remains far too close to announce, with up to half of the ballots still to be tallied.

The extended count left Los Angeles in a state of suspended animation, with some political activists saying they were too nervous to think about the outcome and others searching for new data.

“It kind of feels like the whole city is in limbo,” said Robin Rudisill, a Venice resident and activist on coastal issues. “We are so anxious for someone to take charge and do something about this crisis we find ourselves in. These are such extreme times. And we must take strong and significant action. But for now, we wait.

Visiting Langer’s Deli west of the city center on Wednesday morning, Caruso told customers and reporters he thought he would win out eventually. Although keen to become mayor, the 63-year-old businessman said he should wait with everyone else in LA

“I wish it could happen sooner,” he said. “But they have to check the signatures, that’s just the process.”

Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso speaks with customers before having lunch at Langer's Deli.

Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso chats with customers before having lunch at Langer’s Deli in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

With a Dec. 12 swearing-in date looming for the next mayor, Caruso said he intends to be ready.

He told reporters he had asked Areen Ibranossian, a senior campaign aide, to contact the city’s administrative manager’s staff for information on the budget and other matters.

Caruso also referred to Ibranossian, a former chief of staff to Councilman Paul Krekorian, as his chief of staff – suggesting he could take the job in his administration if elected. The former city hall worker’s presence in Caruso’s camp suggested that the candidate, while stressing the value of his ‘outsider’ perspective, understands the benefit of having aides who understand the massive bureaucracy from the city.

“I will inherit a budget,” Caruso said. “We have to know how to work with this budget.” In his final days of campaigning, he told a group of businessmen on the fringes that he wanted to show the public quickly that a new culture of service – including faster planning and zoning reviews – settled in the municipal government.

But much of what the mayor can achieve will also depend on the city council. A potential leftward tilt of the council could add to the challenges of a new mayor, especially Caruso, a political moderate.

Hugo Soto-Martinez, who has a good chance of beating incumbent board member Mitch O’Farrell for a Hollywood-area board seat, made the potential friction clear after his own visit to Langer’s Deli on Wednesday.

“We’ll see what happens with the mayoral race. But I think we’re going to have a whole new progressive bloc,” Soto-Martinez said, “and I think [Caruso] will have challenges ahead.“

Although Bass did not make a public appearance on Wednesday, his campaign issued a statement expressing his optimism.

“We feel good about these early numbers, and expect to see support for our campaign grow even more as new reports come out, just like we did in June,” said Sarah Leonard. Sheahan, Director of Candidate Communications. “We also look forward to rolling up our sleeves and launching our urgent solutions for homelessness, public safety and affordability.”

Karen Bass with supporters on her election night in Hollywood.

Karen Bass with her supporters on her election night Tuesday at the Hollywood Palladium.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The campaign promised that “Karen Bass will be ready to move us forward from day one.” Like her opponent, Bass had spoken in the final days of the race about some of the issues she intended to face. She reiterated that her primary focus would be on homelessness and renewed her commitment to immediately declare a state of emergency on the issue.

The 11-year-old House of Representatives member said she was particularly concerned about the end of a federal program that helped the city pay to house homeless people in hotels.

Bass, 69, said she wants that program extended. “On day one,” Bass said, “we’ll identify the toughest encampments and house those people.”

Nick Melvoin, vice president of the Los Angeles Unified School Board, understood the anxiety caused by vote count days.

After attending Bass’ election night Tuesday at the Hollywood Palladium, Melvoin found himself clicking on the county registrar’s website until 3 a.m. for the latest updates on the mayoral race.

He said officials want to tend to work, but often find that a delayed election result means “no one can pay attention to it. Everyone is in a waiting pattern.

Bass advisers and supporters were encouraged by the way the June primary election results unfolded. The congresswoman trailed Caruso in election night returns by 5 percentage points, to take the lead a week later as late ballots were tabulated. She eventually finished more than 7 percentage points ahead of Caruso.

The Caruso stalwarts insisted the primary voting patterns would not necessarily hold this time, as early rounds of returns on Tuesday and Wednesday revealed no clear pattern for either candidate.

Paul Mitchell, a political data expert who has followed the race closely, said he saw “nothing really striking to indicate that the remaining ballots would be polarized in any way.” .

With 493,000 votes tallied Wednesday morning, Mitchell said that may only be about half of the total ballots in the mayor’s final tally.

That means candidates and their supporters will have to be patient, Mitchell said.

“They can stay calm. Or they may panic. They can do whatever they want,” Mitchell said. “It won’t change anything.”

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