by Charles Jay
As word began to get around about quotes Manny Pacquiao was alleged to have made that weren’t made at all, you just knew that there were going to be ramifications that were felt well beyond the boxing world, and even beyond the space occupied by the interest groups advocating for equality for those in the LGBT community.
Photo: Chris Farina/ Top Rank
As it turns out, it was about to possibly affect the mayor’s race in the second largest city in the United States.
The controversy spread to a large mall and entertainment complex called The Grove – which gets more visitors than Disneyland – and a scheduled appearance by Pacquiao on its property for an interview that was to be aired on the TV show “Extra.” Believe it or not, there were political implications to such a visit. The developer of that complex, Rick Caruso, was not only very successful as a businessman, but was also something of a “boy wonder” in local community service, and as such, has achieved full development as a political animal.
Having in the past been president of the Police Commission in L.A. (where he was primarily responsible for removing Bernard Parks as police chief and replacing him with Bill Bratton), as well as a former commissioner of the city’s Department of Water and Power (at age 25, no less) he was now reportedly ready to take a stab at something higher – a run at the mayor’s office in the 2013 election. Speculation has been rampant for more than a couple of years, and he commands that kind of attention because he’s no lightweight.
A USC alumnus and Pepperdine Law School graduate, Caruso is one of the more prominent land-developers in Southern California, specializing in large shopping centers. Some of his more notable projects include The Lakes at Thousand Oaks, Waterside Marina del Ray, Americana at Brand in Glendale (where much of the land was obtained through eminent domain), and The Grove, a 575,000 center in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles.
He was also one of the people bidding to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this year, in a group that included former Yankee and Dodger manager Joe Torre, though they ultimately lost out to the group headed by Magic Johnson and movie producer Peter Guber.
“The developer of The Grove and potential L.A. mayoral candidate appears to be a straight shooter (he was one of the few voices of reason on the L.A. Coliseum Commission before he quit), and he’s probably the best-dressed man on the West Coast. But do we really want a trolley running through center field, a fountain at first base and paparazzi camped out behind home plate? Dodger Stadium is not a mall”
The L.A. Weekly writer who penned that was none other than Dennis Romero, who also wrote the story : “Manny Pacquiao Says Gay Men Should Be ‘Put to Death.”
Caruso has been somewhat coy about whether he will formally enter the mayor’s race, but a lot of people think he kicked it off in an unofficial fashion last May he read a seven-page speech at Town Hall that sounded like a clear call to action.
“City Hall is a roadblock that’s keeping Los Angeles from reaching its potential.”
Aside from accusing the city’s political leaders from being most concerned about “tickets to the next sporting event,” Caruso set forth a vision for Los Angeles that included “A leader who sets clear priorities that reflect the needs of our city; a city where families want to love and where their children can learn; a city where work is plentiful and job creation is encouraged; a city where neighborhoods provide a sense of community and belonging, a city where freedom means you aren’t trapped in congestion for hours on end but have ease of transit. And a city where people feel at peace – safe and secure in their homes and on their streets. To me, ladies and gentlemen, that is a vision for a livable Los Angeles.”
That is spoken like a true politician. Heck, Mitt Romney would love to deliver a speech like that.
Now, a year later, here comes Manny Pacquiao, and you just know that Caruso wasn’t going to waste the chance to trash someone who had so much of the gay and lesbian community (i.e., gay and lesbian voters) up in arms.
Without reading anything, we presume, except perhaps the L.A. Weekly story, and not wanting these supposed quotes to blow up in his face, at his own facility, Caruso banned Pacquiao from The Grove entirely. “Extra” co-host Mario Lopez, a genuine boxing aficionado as well as someone who boxes quite a bit himself at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym, who happens to be good friends with Pacquiao, wasn’t going to throw his pal under the bus, so he made plans to interview him at a different location, which in this case happened to be Pacquiao’s L.A. home.
As Dan Turner wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “If anybody was wondering whether mall developer Rick Caruso has the chops to be mayor, doubt no more: On Monday night, he demonstrated that he can pander like a pro.” The story went on to suggest that the banning of PacMan may have been something of an unofficial declaration of candidacy for the billionaire, who, if nothing else, recognized a great opportunity when he saw it.
Or at least he thought so.
The Grove’s and Caruso’s Twitter accounts as of May 15 both included the same tweet:
Boxer Manny Pacquiao is not welcome @TheGroveLA. @TheGroveLA is a gathering place for all Angelenos, not a place for intolerance.
It must have been somewhat awkward, because Andy Cohen was being interviewed on “Extra” at The Grove that day. Cohen, who is Executive Vice-President of Original Programming and Development for Bravo, and executive producer for all the “Real Housewives” series among others, is one of the highest-ranking openly gay executives in television, and perhaps his appearance accelerated Caruso’s act of political expediency.
On Thursday, a day after the misunderstanding about Pacquiao’s statements had been cleared up, NBC Los Angeles carried this headline:
“THE GROVE LIFTS BAN AGAINST PACQUIAO AFTER SAME-SEX MARRIAGE MISQUOTE
The writer of the article in question later confirmed Pacquiao never referenced the passage from Leviticus 20:13 quoted in the article.”
Yet there has been no retraction, no apology and no clarification on the Twitter page of either Caruso or The Grove as of Friday night. And a lot of people are wondering why.
The Grove wished to re-extend its invitation for Pacquiao to come in for the “Extra” interview, but Mario Lopez, sensing the degree of insult his friend felt, told those people he wasn’t even going to ask Pacquiao.
It should be noted that Caruso donated $6 million to build what became known as the USC Caruso Catholic Center, which he described as a “religious think tank” at the time. Its head is Father Lawrence Seyer, a vocal proponent of Proposition 8 in California, who essentially holds the same views Pacquiao does on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“I’m glad to see that the courts maintained that definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and that they followed the will of voters,” were his words after the courts upheld Prop 8.
As a guy who regularly turns investment dollars into shopping malls but has also dabbled in the political world, Caruso has been involved in certain leadership decisions, but not often as they relate to the intersection of morality and politics. If the way he has handled the Manny Pacquiao situation is an acid test for what people can expect from him as mayor, he may have scored a failing grade. This has to have citizens of Los Angeles wondering whether they want someone in office who jumps to conclusions quickly but is very slow on the trigger when it comes to admitting he made a mistake.