Still, his supporters say it is precisely his experience outside government that is driving their enthusiasm. They see a city riddled with crime, where tent encampments for the homeless have taken over sidewalks and freeway underpasses — a city at its lowest point in years. Many complain about R.V.s parked for days or weeks on residential streets, people defecating in public parks, robberies in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
“It’s just out of control,” Jay Sures, a Caruso supporter who is the co-president of United Talent Agency, said when talking about crime, citing a recent example of one of his employees getting held up at gunpoint near Universal Studios. “This homeless thing is also out of control,” he said. “We have to make it so our kids can go out in the streets. I think our city is in shambles right now.”
On a recent walk through Venice, a wealthy beach community and city neighborhood that has become a prime battleground over homelessness, Mr. Caruso, dressed in an impeccably tailored suit, listened as a resident, Marjorie Weitzman, lamented both the enduring presence of encampments and plans to develop more low-income housing in the area.
Ms. Weitzman said she considered herself “a reformed liberal.”
“There’s a lot of people like you,” Mr. Caruso said, nodding in agreement.
During an event Mr. Sures hosted in Brentwood, one guest asked Mr. Caruso about the headline-grabbing murder of a 24-year-old woman in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles in which the authorities have said they believe the killer was homeless. Mr. Caruso looked over at his daughter and began to tear up. His daughter was a classmate of the victim’s at Brentwood High School.
“A young girl being stabbed over 20 or 30 times alone — dying alone — it could be anybody’s daughter,” he said later in an interview. “But I think it also went, you know, to this fear that you’ve got of people that are homeless.”
Mr. Caruso has long cultivated an image as a doting family man.
For years, he told associates he was reluctant to run for mayor because of the effect it could have on his wife and four children. A Roman Catholic who has a weekly Sunday supper with his priest, Mr. Caruso has donated generously to church institutions, including the Caruso Catholic Center at the University of Southern California. Critics, including Planned Parenthood, have sharply criticized him for backing Republicans and for making donations to church organizations, contributions that some characterized as “anti-choice.” But Mr. Caruso dismisses such criticism as anti-religious and insists he supports “a woman’s right to choose.”