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Explaining the Los Angeles Mayor’s Race

Late last week, after months of speculation and hours before the Saturday deadline, the billionaire developer Rick Caruso jumped into the race to become mayor of Los Angeles.

He joined an already crowded field of high-profile contenders, including Representative Karen Bass; two current members of the City Council, Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino; and the city attorney, Mike Feuer.

But the election won’t take place for several months, and it is very possible that Los Angeles will need a new mayor before then.

If the current mayor, Eric Garcetti, is confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to India, he would almost certainly take on his new job before his term ends. That could add to the confusion emanating from a City Hall already mired in scandal and controversy.

“Los Angeles needs to be prepared for what would happen,” Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State Los Angeles, wrote in a recent memo.

In case you need a refresher, Garcetti testified in December before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which last month moved forward his nomination. His confirmation is now before the full Senate, where it requires a simple majority vote.

If Garcetti steps down, Sonenshein wrote, the city’s charter provides a clear short-term solution: The president of the City Council, Nury Martinez, would automatically take over as acting mayor.

Because it’s an automatic change, Martinez — who serves as acting mayor whenever Garcetti leaves the state — would also keep her Council role.

“It would hardly be fair to force the council president to take on the acting mayor role and thereby lose the office he or she had won in an election,” Sonenshein wrote.

What’s less clear is how long she would act as mayor.

If the City Council doesn’t take any action, Martinez would continue as acting mayor until December, when the winner of the election takes office. Or, the Council could opt to formally appoint her mayor to finish out Garcetti’s term, in which case she would “presumably have to step down from the Council,” Sonenshein told me.

The Council could also appoint someone else to become mayor temporarily — including the winner of the June 7 primary election. Sonenshein noted, however, that it’s unlikely any of the candidates would get a majority of votes in the primary, which is required to win outright without leading to a runoff.

Sonenshein said he thought the City Council was most likely to take the path of least resistance, which means, essentially, doing nothing.

“My guess is there’s going to be a desire to have the city work pretty smoothly through the election,” he said.

The deadline to enter the mayor’s race was on Saturday, which means Martinez can’t run for the permanent job, decreasing the chances of political tension around her work in the temporary role.

Martinez told me that she and her staff were well prepared for the transition. Leading the Council’s work through the pandemic, she said, has been helpful practice.

“The city is designed to adapt to and sustain this change,” she said. “We will press on.”

Right now, she and her colleagues are working to temporarily fill the Council seat of Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was suspended after he was indicted on federal corruption charges. As The Los Angeles Times reports, that’s a much more complicated matter.

Afghans who bet on a fast path to the United States are facing a closed door.


Today’s travel tip comes from David W. Crane, who recommends the hidden stairways of San Francisco:

“Many of these stairways start between two houses, and there is no way to know unless you know they are there. I drop them off at the top and pick them up at the bottom. No going up the stairs, just down. Often there will be gardens beside the stairway. If you catch the owner, they often love to talk about their garden. The stairways usually provide great views of the city. There are guidebooks that will tell the visitor how to reach the stairways.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


In 1848, James W. Marshall spotted shining flecks of gold in a valley northeast of Sacramento, a discovery that set off the Gold Rush.

The site is now a state park and, on Friday, officials dedicated a new trail in honor of a group often forgotten in California history.

The Gam Saan Trail, which means “Gold Mountain” in Cantonese, recognizes the Chinese immigrants who worked in the California mines. A hillside near the path was recently discovered to have been a burial ground for Chinese miners.

“The mining of gold was the beginning of the economic development of the state,” Douglas Hsia, a board member for the nonprofit Locke Foundation, told CapRadio. “And the Chinese played a big part of it, but we were never written about and never talked about before.”


Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Baby horse (4 letters).

Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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