Hollywood Divides on L.A. Mayor: Karen Bass or Rick Caruso?

Five candidates took the stage for an L.A. mayoral debate last week, but as far as Hollywood is concerned, there might as well be only two.

Karen Bass, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is the favorite among the industry’s Democratic donor community, led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and J.J. Abrams. Ari Emanuel, the Endeavor CEO and another mainstay of the Democratic fundraising circuit, is hosting an event for Bass on April 7.

But there have been some notable defections, including Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, and his wife Nicole Avant. Avant is such a central player in the Democratic fundraising scene that she was named ambassador to the Bahamas by President Obama. But she and Sarandos are supporting mall developer Rick Caruso, a longtime Republican and independent who became a Democrat just days before entering the race in February.

Caruso has peeled off a fair amount of industry support, apparently in large part due to personal relationships. Gwyneth Paltrow, a neighbor and longtime friend, hosted a fundraiser and recorded an endorsement video earlier this month. Sarandos also has a personal connection, having been a founding member of Caruso’s private beach club in Montecito. Music mogul Scooter Braun, another member of the Miramar Club, is also a Caruso supporter.

Sarandos and Caruso have also done business together. Last fall, Netflix took over the Bay Theater, a five-screen cinema at Caruso’s Palisades Village mall. Paltrow’s Goop store has a location at Caruso’s Miramar resort.

Caruso does not exactly need charity — he has put $4 million into his own campaign so far, and his ads are all over YouTube and TV. Yet many are willing to give anyway. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel will be holding a fundraiser for his fellow billionaire on Tuesday.

The mayoral primary will be held June 7, with the top two finishers advancing to a November general election. The campaign has largely centered around homelessness and crime. The other top contenders — Councilman Kevin de León, Councilman Joe Buscaino and City Attorney Mike Feuer — have lately stepped up their attacks on Caruso. In a recent fundraising email, Feuer called him a “billionaire mall developer” who “is trying to buy his way to City Hall.”

“But we don’t have a personal checkbook to fund this campaign — we have grassroots supporters like you,” Feuer said in the email, before asking for donations ranging from $10 to $250.

Katzenberg, the Quibi co-founder, is in the meantime doing his best to shore up industry support for Bass. He has pledged $250,000 toward a committee called Communities United for Bass for L.A. Mayor 2022. Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, have also contributed $250,000, while Barry Meyer, a former chairman and CEO of Warner Bros., and his wife, Wendy Smith Meyer, gave $100,000 and Carol Biondi, widow of Frank Biondi, gave $12,000.

And Bass has the backing of many Black actors and executives, including BET CEO Scott Mills, Tiffany Haddish, Bozoma Saint John, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Charles D. King, Alfre Woodard, Holly Robinson Peete, Yvette Nicole Brown and Tracee Ellis Ross.

The agencies are evenly divided. CAA’s Bryan Lourd and UTA’s Jay Sures have led the charge for Caruso, while ICM’s Chris Silbermann is supporting Bass. Emanuel is hosting the fundraiser for Bass at the home of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, along with Dan Limerick, WME’s chief operating officer. (Other co-hosts include Mills, entertainment attorney Matt Johnson and Showtime CEO David Nevins.)

Numerous WME execs and agents have already contributed to Bass, including Richard Rosen, Ari Greenburg, Phil Raskind, David Wirtschafter, Marc Korman, Paul Haas, Brandt Joel and Brandon Liebman. But Nancy Josephson, a WME partner, is a longtime friend of Caruso’s, and is supporting him.

And even though Lourd is backing Caruso, a handful of CAA agents are supporting Bass, notably including Maha Dakhil and Bruce Vinokour.

Dana Walden, the chair of Walt Disney Television Studios, held a recent fundraiser for Caruso.

Ken Solomon, CEO and chairman of the Tennis Channel, will also be holding a luncheon for Bass on April 14. In an interview, Solomon said that Bass has the right temperament for the job, and predicted that an executive like Caruso will find himself frustrated by the limits of the mayor’s powers.

“She is wise. She doesn’t get rattled,” Solomon said. “This is a job of persuading hearts and minds and creating alignment. You have to be willing to listen to people and try to align them without being able to pull the lever yourself. Karen Bass is really good at that. She is a great persuader.”

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