Developer Rick Caruso, shown in his office at The Grove in 2010, has again… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)
Rick Caruso, the billionaire mall developer viewed by some as the last hope for a political heavyweight with an outsider's bite to enter the Los Angeles mayoral race, said Thursday he is staying out of the contest.
It marks the second time in four years that the 53-year-old builder of The Grove and other landmark commercial centers has hinted strongly at a run and then bowed out. In 2009, he also sent strong signals that he might mount a campaign against Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Caruso's exit leaves a field dominated by three City Hall insiders with similar records — City Controller Wendy Greuel and council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry — who have so far failed to clearly distinguish themselves on issues.
He joins county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and investment banker Austin Beutner, two other City Hall outsiders who dropped out of contention earlier this year. Both had been critical of the city's management of its finances.
As head of the Police Commission, Caruso helped bring former Police Chief Bill Bratton to Los Angeles. He could have reshaped the race — particularly if he had drawn on his estimated $2-billion personal fortune to finance a campaign.
But he faced challenges, including his longtime Republican Party affiliation and the potential for conflicts of interest if he were elected, given his extensive real estate holdings in Los Angeles.
In a statement Thursday, Caruso cited his business interests as one reason in his decision not to run. "I believe in this city, but it is not the appropriate time for me to step away from [my company]," he said in a statement.
That company, Caruso Affiliated, is building a massive retail and condo development near the Beverly Center. The firm also reportedly is considering a large retail project in Los Feliz.
Steve Soboroff, who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2001, said he thought from the beginning that Caruso's business responsibilities would keep him from running.
"I don't know why he went down the merry road for so long. His business interest and his importance to his company don't allow him to do this."
He speculated that political consultants "gave a lot of positive reinforcement to a guy who could spend $10 million of his own money on the thing." Soboroff said the race will be less exciting now.
"Whenever Rick's not involved in something, it's a little less flashy. Because Rick's flashy."
Indeed, Caruso could have cut an unusually outsized image as a candidate. From his yachts to his Brentwood mansion, his wealth could have eclipsed that of any previous mayoral contender. And he had signaled he was prepared to take on the status quo at City Hall, calling Greuel, Garcetti and Perry "part of the problem and not part of the solution."
Those remaining candidates sought to spin Caruso's exit to their advantage.
Eric Hacopian, Perry's campaign consultant, said his client is "the only person left who can run as a legitimate reformer … particularly on issues like budgets and pensions and the long-term viability of the city."
Greuel portrayed herself as potential beneficiary of business community support.
"Like Rick, I believe in a no-excuses style of governing that focuses on getting things done, cutting waste in government and making Los Angeles a more business- and family-friendly city," Greuel said in a statement.
Bill Carrick, Garcetti's consultant, declined to say how Caruso's decision might affect the race. "If Rick had run, he would have been a very serious candidate," he said.