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Karen Bass Will Be The Next Mayor Of Los Angeles. How Will She Lead The City?

Karen Bass, a woman with brown skin, wearing a red suit and eyeglasses, spreads her arms wide in front of a glass podium. Two women stand behind her holding up printed signs that read KAREN BASS
U.S. Rep Karen Bass speaks on stage at the Los Angeles County Democratic Party Election Night party at the Palladium in Hollywood on Nov. 8.
(Brian Feinzimer
for LAist)
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Karen Bass, the community activist-turned-Congress member, will become the first woman and second Black person to lead the city of Los Angeles.

The Associated Press called the race Wednesday afternoon after vote count numbers released by the L.A. County Registrar showed her leading by more than 46,000 votes, or 53% of the ballots counted so far.

Bass, a Democrat, clinched the mayoral victory after Angelenos turned out in large numbers to vote in a contentious race that saw record-breaking spending by her rival, developer Rick Caruso.

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Homelessness and public safety dominated the campaign discourse — issues that Bass raised in a statement after the race was called.

"To the people of Los Angeles, my message is this: "We are going to solve homelessness. We are going to prevent and respond urgently to crime," Bass said.

Bass also pledged to make the city more accessible to working families, saying, "good jobs and affordable housing construction are on the way."

Caruso Concedes, Garcetti Congratulates

Bass claimed victory after receiving a call from Caruso, whom she hopes will continue "his civic participation in the city that we both love."

In a statement conceding the race, Caruso said: "While we came up short in the count, we made an indelible impact on this city and its people that will last far beyond the campaign trail or Election Day."

Outgoing Mayor Eric Garcetti congratulated Bass and pledged in a statement "to make this the smoothest transition of administrations in our city's history."

He continued: “I know that she will lead this city with grace and compassion, and that she’ll lean on her skills as a natural consensus-builder, deep ties to our neighborhoods and community leaders, and her unwavering commitment to equity and justice that has defined her as one of America’s great visionaries and leaders."

Bass, 69, will take her perch at City Hall during a time of great flux and turnover.

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Recently-leaked audio of council members making racist comments exposed racial fault lines in city politics and led to the resignation of former council President Nury Martinez. A combination of scandals, elections and planned departures means nearly half the council will soon be made up of newcomers.

"[Bass] is going to be coming in when of course everybody kind of wants to do a reboot of city politics," said Ange-Marie Hancock, who teaches gender studies and political science at USC.

On The Agenda: Housing, Homelessness, Public Safety

Bass is inheriting crises over homelessness, housing costs and public safety that have bedeviled Garcetti over his two terms.

Bass has said she will use her connections with those in federal government to tackle homelessness and housing costs.

"I'll be interested to see if she can actually translate those relationships into dollars for Los Angeles specifically," Hancock said.

Bass, who as mayor will propose the city budget, has also said the LAPD should increase staffing to hit its allocation of 9,700 officers.

That plan has been blasted by community activists such as Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter-LA, a long-time friend who has served on Bass’ council of congressional advisors.

“We fully intend to push her on issues,” said Abdullah, who is also a professor of Pan-African studies at Cal State LA. “We don't intend to just leave her there.”

But Abdullah expressed great “relief” that Bass had prevailed over Caruso, saying her background as a community activist bodes well for the city.

“I think that we have an opportunity to really dig deep and move towards again a Los Angeles that works for Black folks, Brown folks, and that refuses to accept racism in its midst,” Abdullah said in an interview moments after AP called the race.

Another History-Making Achievement For Bass

Bass’ victory as mayor is not the first time she has made history. In 2008, she was elected speaker of the state Assembly, becoming the first Black woman to lead a statehouse anywhere in the country.

In 2011, she joined Congress. During her time in the U.S. House of Representatives she headed the Congressional Black Caucus and was shortlisted to be President Biden’s second-in-command.

Trained as a physician's assistant, Bass’ start in public life began as a community organizer in South L.A. She co-founded the Community Coalition to campaign against crime and drugs just a couple years before civil unrest scorched the neighborhood in 1992.

The nonprofit worked to build solidarity between Black and Brown Angelenos, a mission that Bass said she continues to promote today. After the leaked audio scandal, she convened a group of community leaders representing different races as well as religions and sexual orientations.

"We are eager to bear witness and experience first-hand the historical impact she will continue to make on our city," the Community Coalition said in a statement.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

Updated November 16, 2022 at 7:21 PM PST
This story has been updated with quotes and additional context on Bass' win.