Billionaire developer Rick Caruso backs Gascón challenger Nathan Hochman for L.A. D.A.

SHERMAN OAKS, CA - JUNE 25: Rick Caruso, right, endorsed Nathan Hochman for District Attorney during a press conference at Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks, CA on Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Rick Caruso, right, endorsed Nathan Hochman for district attorney during a news conference Tuesday at Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Billionaire mall magnate and 2022 mayoral hopeful Rick Caruso announced Tuesday that he is backing Nathan Hochman for L.A. County district attorney, adding perhaps the biggest name yet to a growing list of endorsements for George Gascón's challenger.

"There's not a more important race in the state of California than this race," Caruso said at a news conference outside the historic Casa Vega restaurant in Sherman Oaks. "It really will change the trajectory of the region, which I think then changes the trajectory of the state."

Hochman triumphed over a historic field of 12 challengers to clinch a spot on the November ballot against the progressive Gascón, who has grown deeply unpopular with some swaths of the electorate since defeating Jackie Lacey in 2020.

The campaign to unseat the incumbent has so far capitalized on distress over property crime and a growing sense of lawlessness among everyday Angelenos.

"On election night, George Gascón got 25% of the vote. That is a historic low for a district attorney sitting for reelection," Hochman said Tuesday, referencing the March primary.

Read more: L.A. teen got a second chance from Gascón after killing. Now he is accused in a new homicide

He characterized Gascón's reform policies as a failed "social experiment" and said voters were fed up with it.

Now, the longtime defense attorney and former Republican challenger for state attorney general must unify those unhappy with the incumbent behind his moderate, law-and-order platform — something Caruso tried and failed to do in his mayoral campaign against Karen Bass in 2022.

"It's bad enough to feel unsafe," Caruso said at the news conference Tuesday. "It's worse to actually be unsafe, and people are unsafe throughout Los Angeles County."

That rhetoric echoed a familiar theme from his 2022 bid for City Hall.

In that race, Caruso cast Los Angeles as a dystopian Gotham plagued by crime and mayhem. The billionaire developer relentlessly touted the belief that a silent majority of voters in liberal Los Angeles wanted a more punitive response to crime and homelessness.

Those same feelings are far more mainstream now than they were two years ago, the magnate said.

"The problems that I talked about have continued to get worse," he said. "It's not just the moderates — everybody's touched by this."

Read more: When prosecutor is defendant: L.A. D.A. George Gascón's legal battles with his own staff

Caruso also brushed aside concerns that Hochman's history as a Republican, like his own, could alienate the candidate from liberal voters. Hochman ran as a Republican against California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta in 2022, but has since become an independent.

"It's a disservice to the people who are actually suffering because of the crime" to focus on party affiliations, Caruso said. "They could care less if the D.A. is to the right or to the left — they want to be safe."

Caruso ultimately lost to Bass by close to 10 percentage points, despite spending a record $104 million, in what became the most expensive mayoral race in the city's history.

The current D.A.'s race could likewise break spending records. This spring's 12-way primary was the largest and most expensive in the office's history.

Read more: George Gascón survived the primary. Can Nathan Hochman unseat him as D.A.?

Hochman alone raised more than $2.7 million in the primary, more than double his nearest competitor. He has continued to fundraise aggressively since clinching a spot on the November ballot, crisscrossing the county in a whirlwind tour.

"If you ask voters across this county, either themselves, their family member, dear friend, community member or neighbor has actually personally suffered from one aspect of these crimes," Hochman said at an event with crime victims Tuesday afternoon.

"We don't have to talk about statistics anymore, we can talk about real-life stories. Those real-life stories is what is going to get George Gascón voted out of office."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.