By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — U.S. Rep. Karen Bass has become the first female to be elected mayor of Los Angeles and the city’s first African-American mayor since Tom Bradley’s final term ended in 1993.
Bass’ lead over billionaire developer Rick Caruso swelled to more than 46,500 votes Nov. 16 causing the Associated Press and KCBS-TV to project victory for Bass, 69, in a mayoral race shaped by Caruso’s intense attacks on Bass and his reported $100 million in campaign spending.
“The results are in, and it is the honor of my life to be elected as your mayor,” Bass wrote in an email to supporters. “Angelenos came together, across every neighborhood and all walks of life, to be heard — and I hear you.”
She added: “Now, it’s time to get to work and move our city in a new direction. It’s time to house people immediately, increase safety and opportunity in every neighborhood, and create a new standard of ethics and accountability at City Hall.”
Caruso, in a statement, said the voters had spoken, but he was proud of his campaign.
“There will be more to come from the movement we built, but for now, as a city we need to unite around Mayor-elect Bass and give her the support she needs to tackle the many issues we face,” Caruso said. “Congratulations, Karen, and God-speed.”
Caruso made reference to what was at times a contentious race between the two candidates.
“And although at times, we’ve been disheartened by the nature of politics, the baseless, untrue attacks in search of victory, not values — more than anything, my family and I are inspired by the good, decent, hard-working people of Los Angeles,” Caruso said.
According to updated vote totals released from the Nov. 8 election, Bass led Caruso by more than 46,500 votes, opening up a 53% to 47% advantage. The last six vote-counting updates after Election Day have all resulted in gains for Bass.
“This victory sends a clear message about the kind of Los Angeles we want to see for ourselves,” said Mark Gonzalez, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. “We’ve always said this race is about the soul of Los Angeles, and voters clearly spoke up to reject an attempt to buy this race.”
Eighth District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a strong Bass supporter, also reflected the mood of a victorious campaign.
“Sometimes I feel like I can’t love the city any more than I do, and then the people show up and do this!,” Harris-Dawson posted on his Twitter page. “Congratulations Mayor Bass!”
Fernando Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, believes the ultimate factor for voters was their unwillingness to take a chance on Caruso, who has fame and notoriety as a wealthy business mogul but has never worked as an elected official.
“Bass represents what L.A. aspires to be,” Guerra told City News Service. “She was able to keep the L.A. coalition together. She was able to keep the optimism that we can continue to be who we think we are and who we want to be.”
Caruso led by five percentage points after the first vote count Nov. 8, but that was before a significant amount of mail-in and early drop-off ballots had been counted. Tabulating those votes signaled a shift in the race and helped Bass pull even by Nov. 11. On Nov. 12, Bass pulled ahead by 9,000 votes and saw her lead increase each day throughout the week, a surge that generated the victory projections.
Bass’ emergence to L.A.’s top leadership position was met with praise and adulation in the city’s Black community.
“This is a great day in the history of L.A.,” said Rev. William Smart, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. “Karen is a woman who has the capacity and experience to lead our city. She can dissect what’s wrong with our city and how to improve it. You can invest all you want, but if you’re not investing in the people, you’re not a true leader. Karen has been investing in people throughout her career.”
Melina Abdullah, president of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, said she has known Bass for 27 years. Abdullah said she wasn’t surprised at how Bass stood up to Caruso’s relentless campaign attacks on Bass’ character.
“Very little shakes Karen,” Abdullah said of Bass. “She’s uniquely built to withstand attacks like that. She has tremendous attributes for the job she’s about to take on.”
Bass inherits leadership of a city grappling with a scandal that has embroiled City Hall for the past month, after three council members and a top county labor official took part in a recorded conversation in October 2021 that included racist comments and attempts to manipulate redistricting.
Combined with concerns over homelessness, crime, quality of life and cost of living, “people are just the most pessimistic I’ve seen Angelenos in basically a decade and a half — since the Great Recession,” Guerra said.
Bass, 69, grew up in the midst of the civil rights movement with three brothers in the Venice and Fairfax neighborhoods. She was drawn to community activism after watching the movement on television, volunteering for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign when she was 14.
Her organizing career began in 1990, when she founded Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles social justice group in response to the crack cocaine crisis.
In 2004, Bass was the only Black woman in the state Legislature when she was elected to the state Assembly. Four years later, she became the first Black woman to lead the chamber. Bass was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010.
“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.,” said Councilman Curren Price, the council’s president pro tempore. “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.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. City News Service also contributed to this story.