Los Angeles mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso addressed their ties to USC and their roles in various university scandals in a debate Wednesday at the Skirball Cultural Center.
Following the L.A. County Sheriff debate, Caruso and Bass took the stage to present their positions on pressing issues like homelessness and safety in the community. Moderators Gabriela Teissier, Elex Michaelson and Erika D. Smith directed the debate, with some audience members having the opportunity to share questions and concerns.
Initially, the debate was supposed to take place at USC, but the university announced in August that, “accommodating the timing and logistics required to host the requested two back-to-back debates simply was not possible.”
USC student James D’Ambrosi, who works as a campaign intern for Caruso, believes the debate taking place at USC could’ve created an, “environment [in which] students don’t feel comfortable.”
The moderators questioned Caruso and Bass about conflicting information regarding their involvement with two separate USC scandals. Bass, accused of accepting a $95,000 scholarship without any formal application, claims she received the award under merit, citing her history of youth advocacy as justification for her place in USC’s social work program.
After awarding Bass the scholarship, the then-dean of USC’s School of Social Work, Marilyn Flynn, pled guilty in a federal bribery case. The investigation involved her execution of an illegal money transfer for then-LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in exchange for his assistance in negotiations for a new USC telehealth contract. Bass’ scholarship was cited by prosecutors as being “critical” to demonstrating Flynn’s corrupt intent.
“The federal prosecutors have said there was no application. She got a $95,000 scholarship [and] she failed to report it in Congress,” Caruso said. “She got her degree taking less classes than her fellow students took and then worked with the dean to fashion legislation… to have taxpayer dollars go back to that same school and she is named critical in a federal bribery and corruption case.”
Bass stated that Caruso was “totally misrepresenting” the situation, but failed to explain how. Instead, Bass pivoted the spotlight back to Caruso for his handling of the scandal surrounding sexual assault allegations levied against former USC gynecologist George Tyndall.
“The victims of the gynecologist who sexually assaulted hundreds of students at USC have asked you to release the report,” said Bass. “As the Chair of the Board of Trustees, [Caruso] committed to do an investigation, to do a report and then he decided afterwards that he wasn’t going to release it.”
Caruso then accused Bass of using the subject as a deflection, asking her if she believed that federal prosecutors were lying about the questionable elements of her scholarship. When Bass responded, “No, I’m saying you are,” Caruso claimed he was reciting the words of the prosecutors, to which Bass was not given a chance to respond.
The candidates made their differences clear on other major issues, including homelessness and crime in Los Angeles. Bass accused Caruso of not having a comprehensive plan for homelessness, claiming his shelters-first approach would not keep people off the streets.
“My problem with Rick’s plan is that it just calls for shelters,” said Bass. “You have to have shelters, but you have to move people into permanent, supportive housing and then you have to mainstream them out of that.”
In response to a question from a Loyola Marymount University senior about the affordability of local college graduates staying in L.A., Caruso blamed excessive regulation for the rapidly surging cost of living in the city.
“We have over-regulated [development] in this city to the point that it’s so expensive to build in the city. People aren’t building,” Caruso said. “That’s why affordability is so upside down.”
While Bass agreed that some over-regulation exists, she first pointed a finger at the job market in Los Angeles, saying the city needs more, “decent-paying jobs that will allow you to afford a place.”
The race’s most recent polls show Bass carrying a sizable lead over Caruso. Election day is Nov. 8.