Tomorrow is election day in LA and Angelenos will have many decisions to make up and down the ballot. The most high profile and impactful of those races is the choice of who will be the next LA Mayor, to replace the current termed-out mayor Eric Garcetti. Legislative titan Karen Bass, 69, is facing billionaire developer Rick Caruso, 63, and the race is tight. Here are 6 interesting facts about Rick Caruso:
He’s an incredibly successful developer worth $5.3 billion
Rick Caruso, who has a Bachelors degree from USC and J.D. from Pepperdine School of Law, was working as a real estate attorney when he founded his namesake company Caruso in 1987, purchasing property owned by his father’s company Dollar Rent A Car and leasing it back to him. He began working full-time for Caruso in 1990, and has since developed some of LA’s most iconic outdoor malls and residential properties, including The Grove in the Fairfax district and The Americana in Glendale — touting a portfolio of 15 properties in total. According to his campaign website, the Grove “attracts more visitors per year than the Great Wall of China or Disneyland.”
Caruso has become incredibly rich in the process, amassing a $5.3 billion wealth according to Forbes, making him the 15th richest Angeleno according to LA Business Journal. He has reportedly spent $100 million of his own fortune on his mayoral campaign.
He has a record of public service, just not as an elected official
Despite never holding public office, Caruso has long been involved in LA’s government and institutions. He became the youngest commissioner in LA history when he was appointed to the LADWP commission at age 26. He was appointed and served as President of the LA Board of Police Commissioners, where he led the committee to hire William Bratton to Chief of Police. And he’s served on the LA Coliseum commission, where he was an advocate for banning raves, specifically the Electric Daisy Carnival, following a rash of drug-related medical incidents, including the death of a 15 year old.
Caruso has also been an active philanthropist through his Caruso Family Foundation, which has donated to a number of causes and academic institutions. According to his campaign website, he donates 20% of his company’s profits to charity, amounting to over $130 million.
He was elected to Chairman of the USC Board of Trustees in 2018, and served during a tumultuous period when the school faced scandals in admissions bribery and a sexual abuse by USC gynecologist George Tyndall. Caruso resigned from the USC Board earlier this year. Notably, Lori Laughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade — who was a culprit in the admissions scandal — was on Rick Caruso’s yacht partying with Caruso’s daughter and fellow USC student Gianna when the scandal broke, reported TMZ.
He has switched party affiliation four times in the past 11 years
Caruso has toyed with the idea of running for mayor several times in the past few decades, but his long time association with the Republican Party has been his albatross. He officially became a Democrat for the first time this January, less than a month before he filed to run for mayor. This was a shrewd political decision, considering that in the City of Los Angeles, 58% of voters are registered Democrat while only 13% are Republican, according to LA Almanac.
It was also the fourth time Caruso changed parties since 2011, reports the L.A. Times. He first changed from Republican to “no party preference” in November 2011 when he was considering a run for mayor, switched back to Republican in 2016, then back to “no party preference” in 2019, finally becoming a Democrat this year.
He has stated that despite whatever party he’s been registered to, he has always been a centrist. In this race, Caruso has made many efforts to boost his left-wing bona fides, including running ads touting his pro-choice position.
While Caruso has never been elected to public office, he is the insider in the race for LA Mayor
Judging by the narratives created by their respective campaigns, voters would be left with the impression that Karen Bass, who has been a state and federal legislator for nearly 20 years, is the consummate political insider in this race — while Caruso, who’s never been elected to public office, is the outsider.
In fact, the opposite is true. That’s because, as we noted in our write-up about Bass, Caruso has long been a regular figure in City Hall, both as a developer and appointed city commissioner, while Bass has never been a local elected official.
“California developers often function as the most important leaders in municipalities. They are the true insiders,” notes Zocalo Public Square. “Caruso probably knows as much about how L.A.’s City Hall works as anyone. He would take office with far more intimate knowledge of, and better contacts in, local government than Bass.”
It’s up to voters to decide whether they prefer Bass, a seasoned legislator with little LA city experience, or Caruso, an insider with stacked Rolodex, but who has never held elected office.
Caruso’s father “Hank” founded Dollar Rent a Car, and also went to jail
Rick Caruso’s paternal grandparents migrated from Italy, eventually settling in Boyle Heights in the 1920s, then moving to Silver Lake where they raised three boys, one being Henry “Hank” who would later be Rick’s father.
Hank began his career as a car salesman then built a car dealership empire, starring in local TV commercials which made his name become ubiquitous, with The Desert Sun calling him the “glamour boy of automotive salesmanship in Los Angeles.” He was later indicted and served time for fraud related to his car sales work, however in 1970, Hank was able to withdraw his guilty plea and the charges against him were dismissed by the California Superior Court.
Hank went on to found Dollar Rent A Car, a car rental agency tailored to travelers on a budget, growing it to the fourth largest rental agency worldwide. Dollar was sold to Chrysler in 1990, and is now owned by Hertz.
He has four kids with wife Tina
Rick Caruso is married to wife Tina, a former fashion designer and swimsuit model, and lives in Brentwood. They have four kids: Alex, Gregory, Justin and Gianna “Gigi,” all of whom have attended USC. Justin is a DJ and record producer while Gigi is an influencer and owns and swimwear company with her mom called Gigi C. Gigi was born hearing loss in both ears has been an advocate for support for children with hearing loss.
Before you make your election-day decisions, learn about Caruso’s opponent in our write-up of 6 interesting facts about Karen Bass.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.