Caruso has the better name recognition at this point. He will be labeled a developer. Not the best title in this town, but his projects such as the Grove shopping and entertainment center are very popular. (He noted the Grove had 20 million visitors a year compared with Disneyland’s 13 million, although I suspect that the admission price might have something to do with the disparity in those numbers.)
Beutner will have to deal with how he defines his role with the current mayor and how popular Villaraigosa is come election time.
The situation in which I watched them was quite different, and a side-by-side comparison is difficult. Beutner appeared serious and reserved. Caruso, addressing a large audience, was relaxed. Beutner was challenged with more specific questions than Caruso, who was asked how he could save the Dodgers. Both handled the Q&A well.
With jobs and the economy the No. 1 issue for many voters, the timing might be right for the candidacies of well-off businessmen who emphasize their job-creating abilities.
Riordan proved that a business leader with no elected experience could do a credible job running the city. Beutner and Caruso hope the voters retain fond memories of his leadership. Beutner has the advantage of already having secured Riordan’s endorsement, although Riordan’s endorsement of another businessman, Steve Soboroff, to succeed him did not turn the race in Soboroff’s favor.
Beutner and Caruso will not be the only candidates for the job. In fact, there are many with much greater name recognition who could fill out a large field of candidates: Elected politicians such as Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, City Controller Wendy Gruel, state Sen. Alex Padilla, City Councilwoman Jan Perry and City Council President Eric Garcetti, as well as talk radio host and attorney Kevin James, and perhaps even a surprise or two like former Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
But Caruso and Beutner, with their business credentials, will constitute a special competition within the larger political campaign.
If policy is similar, personality and the way they conduct their campaigns will make the difference.
Joel Fox is president of the Small Business Action Committee in California, editor of the political/business blog FoxandHoundsDaily.com and author of the mystery novel “Lincoln’s Hand.”