Local activists offer advice to incoming mayor

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — A successful first term for Karen Bass as mayor of Los Angeles could hinge on the staff she hires to help her run the nation’s second largest city — and perhaps some divine intervention.

“L.A. is a hot mess right now,” said Tavis Smiley, founder of KBLA 1580, the all-Black talk radio station in Los Angeles. “With the issues she’s facing and the high expectations, I’m keeping her very high on my prayer list.”

Bass, 69, was declared the winner of the Los Angeles mayoral race on Nov. 16 after pulling away from billionaire developer Rick Caruso to become the city’s first female and second African-American mayor.

When Bass formally takes over the Mayor’s Office next month, a number of critical issues will be waiting for her, led by rising crime, police reform, homelessness, affordable housing concerns and a City Council still reeling from a controversy over racist comments.

“We would like Bass to really heal the city,” said Rev. William Smart, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. “It’s a big challenge for her, but she has a lot of citizens with her who are ready for that to happen.”

Bass will have some important early decisions to make as she prepares for her demanding role. Most of the decisions will involve staff appointments.

Political observers believe Bass needs to surround herself with a competent staff that can effectively assist her in carrying out the platforms she promoted during her campaign.

Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-South Los Angeles, saw firsthand the inner workings of the mayor’s office when he was a member of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan’s staff.

Jones-Sawyer said it’s critical for Bass to identify people who “understand city government and how complex it is.”

“People we thought would be successful as mayors ended up struggling because they didn’t hire the right people,” said Jones-Sawyer, who served as Riordan’s director of real estate and chief financial analyst from 1994-98. “A lot of people can help you win an election, but it’s a different skill set to be able to work in city government. City government has taken down the best of us.”

Jones-Sawyer has worked with Bass since both were in the California State Legislature. Jones-Sawyer will likely be among the political associates Bass calls on to ask about potential candidates for her staff.

“If that happens, I would be happy to share my insights with Karen,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Bass has more than 17 years of service as an elected official in the state Legislature and Congress. Her political background on the local, state and national levels is expected to be a major advantage for her as mayor in securing much-needed funding for Los Angeles.

Before deciding to run for mayor, Bass was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, which gave her added visibility and responsibilities to handle major assignments. Bass’ solid reputation in Congress is the reason President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama traveled to Los Angeles to campaign for her.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a mayor with these qualifications,” Jones-Sawyer said of Bass. “She can cut through the B.S. and go to the front of the line. If she hears about some federal money that’s available, she will know how to get it and who to call to make it happen.”

The last L.A. mayor with similar credentials was Antonio Villaraigosa, who led the city for two terms from 2005 to 2013. Villaraigosa was in the state Assembly before becoming mayor and served as Democratic majority leader and Assembly speaker. Villaraigosa, however, did not pursue a national elected position.

Political observers believe Bass’ political experience will be a difference maker in her efforts to improve the city.

David Huerta, president of SEIU United Service Workers West, said Bass had a track record of fighting for Los Angeles’ working class.

“Angelenos had a choice between a pro-worker legislator and community activist and a real estate developer with a proven track record of putting his personal profit ahead of people, and they made it clear who they want as their next mayor,” Huerta said.

Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called Bass “the champion that people in Los Angeles deserve.”

“Her victory is further proof that voters want to see candidates fight back for the freedom to decide,” Timmaraju said.

City Councilman Curren Price has known Bass for many years, “From her activist days on the ground leading the Community Coalition from a storefront in South L.A., to making waves in Sacramento and Washington D.C.,” he said.

“Whether fighting to protect the rights of women, children and families, immigrants, students, businesses, workers or veterans, she has raised her powerful voice on behalf of our most vulnerable populations and has earned this historical title.”

Local broadcaster Smiley may have summed it up the best.

“I’ve lived in L.A. for almost 40 years,” he said. “I’ve never seen a mayoral candidate more qualified than Bass. She knows how the branches of government work. We’re pulling for her.

“There’s a significant number of people in the city, who not only wanted her to win and make history, but want her to be successful,” he added. “That’s the key to all of this.”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at rayrich55@gmail.com.

City News Service contributed to this story. 


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