Former mayoral candidate Austin Beutner speaks to reporters. "I… (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los…)
Austin Beutner, the wealthy former investment banker who struggled to gain traction in his yearlong campaign for Los Angeles mayor, dropped out of the race Tuesday.
In an email to supporters, Beutner said he wants to spend more time with his wife and four young children. And in an unusual move, he pledged to pay back every person who contributed to his campaign.
His exit comes after months of fundraising struggles, churn among his campaign staff and a recent poll that showed him capturing a dismal 2% of the likely vote in next year's election to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who will be termed out.
Beutner says money wasn't a factor in his decision, and said he had been prepared to pump his personal wealth into the campaign to accrue name recognition.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, May 10, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Austin Beutner: An article in the May 9 LATExtra section about Austin Beutner's decision to leave the race for Los Angeles mayor identified supporter David Fleming as a former head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Fleming served as an MTA director but not as chief executive.
"Name ID is relatively easy to buy and we had the resources to buy it," he said. "But it's all about where I am right now, and where I need to be is with my family. I don't want to look back and wish I had spent more time with my kids."
Beutner, who vowed to bring private sector accountability and efficiencies to city government, was seen as a business community alternative in a political landscape where public employee and service unions hold enormous sway.
Political observers say his departure may make space for other pro-business candidates and could jolt another wealthy business and civic leader -- mall developer Rick Caruso -- into the race.
"It clearly makes any decision by Rick Caruso much easier," said former Mayor Richard Riordan, who backed Beutner's campaign early on.
Fernando Guerra, director for the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said he doesn't think Beutner's departure significantly alters the dynamics of the race for the top contenders -- City Controller Wendy Greuel, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Councilwoman Jan Perry -- and said it wouldn't have much bearing on the chances of county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is also weighing a run.
But Guerra said a fourth candidate, former talk radio personality Kevin James, could see a bump in support from voters seeking a reformer. James is now the only person in the race who is not an elected officeholder.
Beutner touted himself as a City Hall outsider, but he spent more than a year in city government. He oversaw 13 departments as Villaraigosa's jobs czar and he served as interim director of the Department of Water and Power.
In recent months, he stepped up his attacks on his opponents, dismissing City Hall as a "barnyard" and criticizing city officials for mishandling the ongoing budget crisis and for letting city streets and sidewalks fall into disrepair. In March, he made headlines after he attacked Garcetti, Perry and Greuel over cuts to the Fire Department and inadvertently brought to light discrepancies in the department's reporting of its response times.
But Beutner failed to ignite excitement among voters. Some blamed his soft-spoken manner. And there appeared to be instability in his campaign. Two high-level consultants abruptly left in January.
Beutner said Tuesday that he disagreed with "the notion that politics was somehow not a good fit for me."
He said eventually he plans to endorse a candidate, although he has not decided whom. He said paying back hundreds of campaign contributors seems like the right thing to do.
One prominent Beutner supporter, David Fleming, a Villaraigosa ally and the former head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said he will now back Greuel. But what Los Angeles really needs is an outsider to take the helm, Fleming said. "It's hard to see anybody inside city government making the kind of substantial change that is needed in this city."