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Karen Bass For Mayor? She’s 'Seriously Considering' A Campaign To Lead Los Angeles

Karen Bass stands at a podium in a blue suit with gray lapels, speaking into a microphone, holding papers in her left hand and gesturing with her right. The flag of the House of Representatives is in the background.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) is considering a run for L.A. mayor.
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Progressive organizers of Los Angeles: Rep. Karen Bass has heard your pleas.

After weeks of an online campaign to entice the congressmember to enter the mayor’s race, Bass says she is weighing a run for the top job at City Hall.

“I have been overwhelmed and humbled by people pushing for me to do this, and I will say that I am seriously considering it,” Bass said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with KPCC/LAist. “[Running for mayor] was not something I had thought about before — I was planning to run for reelection. I am evaluating the situation now.”

This is a shift for Bass, and a move that could seriously shake up the contest to lead the nation’s second-largest city. A month ago a spokesperson told the L.A. Times that Bass was focused on retaining her seat in Congress, and not thinking about running for mayor. Since 2011 she has represented the 37th District in the House, including South L.A., Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Century City and West L.A.

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But Bass, a former Speaker of the California Assembly who got her start in community organizing in South L.A., said messages and social media posts from progressive activists asking her to run opened her eyes to the possibility.

“It was not something I had thought about before,” Bass said. “But I have been really humbled and really honored by people calling on me to take this seriously.”

I have been really humbled and really honored by people calling on me to take this seriously.
— Rep. Karen Bass

San Pedro-area City Councilmember Joe Buscaino and City Attorney Mike Feuer are the highest profile candidates to launch mayoral candidacies. City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmember Kevin de León are also mulling campaigns, reportedly along with real estate developer Rick Caruso and former LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner.

There’s evidence that Bass would enter the campaign as a frontrunner. A survey by opinion firm FM3 Research that asked Democratic voters about current and potential candidates found strong support for Bass — nearly a quarter of respondents picked her as their first choice for mayor. Bass' hypothetical competitors languished in the single digits, according to the results of the late-July early-August snapshot.

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“She has been an amazing progressive champion in Congress and in her previous elected positions, and I think she would be exactly what we need,” said Loraine Lundquist, a progressive activist and former city council candidate. “It would be fantastic to have someone with her coalition-building experience be in charge here in L.A.”

As Bass has climbed Democratic political ranks in recent years — she was vetted by the Biden team to possibly serve as Vice President — she has not shied away from difficult problems. Bass took the lead in bipartisan talks over police reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. She authored a bill to ban no-knock warrants and create a national police misconduct registry that passed the House twice but has stalled in the Senate, where it needs 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.

'A Humanitarian Crisis'

At the local level, Bass said, the political rhetoric around the issue of homelessness in L.A. has drawn her concern.

“Los Angeles, I believe, is at a crossroads,” she said. “We are facing a humanitarian crisis. I am really worried that our city could be torn apart, that people could be turned against each other.”

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“​​Knowing her, she’s going to be focused on the root causes and solutions, and not get caught up in the vitriol,” said Alberto Retana, CEO of Community Coalition, the organization Bass helped start when she was an emergency room physician’s assistant in the 1990s. Retana has been part of the chorus of progressive voices clamoring for Bass to get in the ring.

“We also face a health crisis with COVID that is disproportionately impacting certain communities,” Bass said. “And so I am humbled and very honored that people would think that I could do this job.”

Activists on the left have been outspoken in their dissatisfaction over their options in the mayor’s race thus far.

“I'm uninspired by who's in the race, and I can't sleep at night, over the issues our city is facing,” Retana said. “That's why I’m going to continue to post about this and push. As a Brown man in this city, I want to get other Brown folks to support this Black woman who can really move the needle in a way that we all deserve.”

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Earlier this month, a key player cleared the field: Mark Ridley-Thomas, city councilmember and an ally of Bass, announced he would not run for mayor and threw careful support behind his friend of four decades.

“I think Los Angeles would be fortunate to have such leadership, should she be inclined to pursue it,” Ridley-Thomas told Los Angeles magazine. Bass declined to share a timeline for her decision. L.A.’s mayoral primary is in June, with a runoff in November if no candidate breaks the 50% vote threshold.

In July, President Biden nominated Mayor Eric Garcetti to be the next U.S. Ambassador to India. That confirmation process could drag on until the end of the year. If Garcetti is confirmed, the city council will appoint an interim mayor to serve the remainder of his term, which extends through December of 2022.

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