Billionaire LA mayoral candidate sparks derision after declaring he’s not white because he’s Italian
The billionaire real estate mogul who hoped to be elected mayor of Los Angeles sparked widespread ridicule by claiming he wasn’t white because he was Italian-American.
Rick Caruso, 63, appeared at a mayoral debate Tuesday night with his opponent, Karen Bass, a Democrat who hopes to be the first black woman to rule the city.
The moderator of the debate, Honduran-born Telemundo host Dunia Elvir, began her question by saying, “The next Los Angeles mayor will be either an African-American woman or a white man.”
Caruso then intervened: “I’m Italian.”
Elvir replied, “Italian-American.”
The Republican candidate, whose grandparents emigrated from Italy, said, “That’s Latin, thank you.”
Rick Caruso, a billionaire real estate mogul, hopes to become the next mayor of Los Angeles
On Tuesday night, Caruso objected to being called a white man, insisting that he was “Latin.”
While in Europe Italians, Spaniards, French, Portuguese, and several others are often referred to as “Latins,” in the United States the word refers to Latin Americans.
Caruso’s claim was immediately mocked online.
“Wow, did Caruso just say he’s Latin? That he’s not white? I’m floored,” said Alberto Retana, the president and CEO of the South LA group’s Community Coalition.
“We can’t let him do this. Terrible.’
Comedian Nick Jack Pappas joked, “Can’t wait for Rick Caruso to claim Columbus was a Latino immigrant.”
Activist Jessica Burbank said: “After consultation with the Italian-American delegation, we offer to exchange Rick Caruso for 3 cannoli.”
One person accused Caruso of attempting to fake his race, drawing a parallel of white Rachel Dolezal, who famously claimed she was black.
Rick Caruso pulled a Rachel Dolezal tonight. ‘White? Me?’ “I’m Italian,” he said.
And another added: “He doesn’t know what Latin means, or what continent Italy is on.”
Latinos make up about half of the city’s population of about 4 million people and they tended to be Caruso in the primaries, but can be inconsistent voters.
The contest was rocked Sunday by the revelation of a nearly a year-old recording of racist remarks made during a closed-door meeting of several prominent Latino city council Democrats and a Latino union leader.
The Los Angeles Times, which got its hands on the leaked recording, reported that Council President Nury Martinez describes a white councilor’s black son as “Parece changuito” or “like a monkey.”
The Times said Martinez also called councilman Mike Bonin a “little bastard” and at another time made fun of the Oaxacans, who come from a state in southern Mexico with a high percentage of indigenous peoples.
Martinez, who supports Bass, resigned on Monday.
“They have abandoned our city,” said Caruso.
Caruso, in his first race for elected office, was a longtime Republican who switched and became a Democrat by the deadline to enter the race in a city where the GOP is virtually invisible.
He has tapped his fortune of an estimated $5.3 billion to build a $60 million war chest, most of it his own money — an amount that easily overshadows the fundraising efforts by all candidates in the previous three mayoral races.
Despite the financial advantage, even his internal polls show that he is lagging behind.
Time is running out and the race is taking on an increasingly hostile tone as the ballots are sent out for an election closing on November 8.
“It’s not the power of money, it’s the power of the people,” Bass, a lifelong Angeleno and former state assembly speaker, told supporters cheering at a recent open-air rally.
Karen Bass currently leads Caruso in the polls ahead of the November 8 election
The contours of the race have been set for months: finding solutions to the protracted homeless crisis, rising crime and runaway rents and house prices.
The centrist Caruso, the son of Italian immigrants, is testing whether the famously liberal city could turn to the political right for the first time in decades.
He promises to expand the police force and get homeless camps off the streets quickly.
The progressive Bass has positioned herself as a coalition builder and emerged as the choice of the Democratic establishment, with her supporters including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a former US Senator and Attorney General in California.
The winner replaces outgoing Democratic mayor Eric Garcetti, who was absent from the contest for two terms.
His nomination as US ambassador to India — made by Biden more than a year ago — appears to have stalled in the Senate over allegations of sexual harassment against a former top adviser to Garcetti.