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Potential mayoral candidate Rick Caruso takes aim at city leaders and L.A.'s 'bureaucratic nightmare'

May 12, 2011 |  2:34 pm

Rick Caruso at a Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission meeting. He serves as a commissioner. This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Los Angeles mall developer Rick Caruso stopped short of announcing a run for mayor at a luncheon downtown Thursday, but he called for new leadership in a city that he described as a "bureaucratic nightmare," castigating Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council members and some of his potential opponents.

Calling the city's unemployment rate -- at 13.4% in March -- "embarrassing" and its job-creation policies "an abject failure," Caruso argued that firms are fleeing the city -- and choosing not to build here -- because of onerous regulations and tax burdens. 

"I'm frustrated that our current political class often seems incapable of recognizing the scope of the city's challenges, let alone addressing them. They look instead to the next election, the next fundraiser, the next ribbon-cutting or, in many cases, tickets to the next sporting event," Caruso said, the last point a reference to Villaraigosa’s recent reprimand from ethics officials for accepting free tickets.

"City Hall is a roadblock keeping Los Angeles from its potential," he said during a speech at the Millennium Biltmore hotel. "When you see families moving to Calabasas for schools and then commuting to El Segundo for jobs, you see the scope of our problem."

In a reference to his recent decision to pull out of the bidding for a design and development project at two Los Angeles International Airport terminals, Caruso said that when landing at LAX "you could be landing in any third-world country on the face of the Earth."

Caruso's appearance before about 160 business executives and legal professionals at a luncheon sponsored by Town Hall Los Angeles comes as the 2013 race to replace Villaraigosa is heating up.

Caruso, the developer of the Grove shopping center in the Fairfax district and the $400-million Americana at Brand in Glendale, has long considered a mayoral run. With Villaraigosa forced out by term limits, Caruso says he is more serious about a campaign than ever before. On Thursday, however, he said he had no timeline for making a decision.

Several formidable contenders have already announced that they are exploring a run, including former first deputy mayor Austin Beutner, City Controller Wendy Greuel, City Councilwoman Jan Perry and talk-radio host Kevin James. Several other power players -- including City Council President Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky -- are also considering their own efforts.

Caruso, who is known as an intensively hands-on manager of his company, Caruso Affiliated, has taken several steps recently that have heightened the speculation that he will enter the race. 

In February, he elevated his executive vice president of operations, Paul Kurzawa, to chief operating officer, freeing Caruso from some of his daily management of the company.

The decision by Caruso Affiliated to withdraw from the bidding process to revamp LAX's Terminal 2 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal and operate the retail and restaurant outlets there was also seen by some as a signal that he was preparing to enter the race. His spokesman said it was purely a business decision.

For the record: 4:03 p.m., May 12: A previous version of this post said Los Angeles' unemployment was 11%. It was 13.4% for March.

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-- Maeve Reston

Photo: Rick Caruso at a Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission meeting. He serves as a commissioner. Credit:  Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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