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Rick Caruso: Mall mogul, voice of political moderates

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Rick Caruso
Rick Caruso, photographed in his office at the Grove in Los Angeles on Dec. 18.

Despite more than $100 million in personal funding, the best consultants in the state and a lifetime of seemingly bottomless ambition, Rick Caruso is not the mayor of Los Angeles.

Still, the former candidate presides like an elected-official-cum-deity at his signature Fairfax District mall. On the faux-European streets of the Grove, Caruso is rapturously greeted by shoppers who remain fully sold on his vision.

There is a reason malls across the country now look a little more like the Grove and the Americana at Brand (albeit rarely with quite the same level of high-gloss, Disney-ified detail). The billionaire developer’s shopping center oeuvre has deeply influenced the industry as a whole, leaving an indelible imprint on the Southern California lifestyle while also exporting it to the world.

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Discover the changemakers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. This week we bring you the final installment of the L.A. Influential series: The Establishment. They are the bosses, elected officials and A-list names calling the shots from the seats of power.

Back in 2022, Caruso’s hyper-idealized placemaking also doubled as an advertisement for his mayoral pitch. The Grove may not be a city, but it is a multi-block section of artificial Los Angeles where the streets are gleaming clean, the trolleys run on time and crime is far from normalized.

Predictions of a silent majority swinging his way were vastly overstated and Caruso lost by nearly 10 percentage points to now-Mayor Karen Bass. But there is a wide swath of the city (more than 400,000 voters) who were deeply swayed by his message.

The Grove may not be a city, but it is a multi-block section of artificial Los Angeles where the streets are gleaming clean, the trolleys run on time and crime is far from normalized.

After remaining relatively quiet during Bass’ first year in office, the question is what Caruso, 65, does now.

Will he run again? And can he channel center-left voters into political might in a city — and state — synonymous with progressivism?

He brought on a full-time political director last year and has been focused on helping to elect moderate California Democrats in several 2024 congressional races. He also co-hosted a December fundraiser for President Biden in Los Angeles, paying nearly $1 million to do so.

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Rick Caruso

A cynic might say he was trying to burnish his Democratic credentials (arguably, his Achilles’ heel during 2022, as a voter formerly registered as a Republican and then “decline to state”) ahead of another bid for office. But Caruso argued that he had long supported Democrats along with Republicans, and fundamentally believes people should govern from the middle.

And what of a future run?

“I’m going to keep all my options open,” Caruso said in December. He conceded that he and his team were “looking at” the 2026 gubernatorial race but played it coy.

“I’m not giving it a lot of thought right now,” Caruso added with a smile.

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