Column: Karen Bass appears headed to victory. L.A. needs fixing, let’s hope she can deliver

A woman wearing glasses and a burgundy top smiles
Karen Bass smiles while answering questions from reporters after voting last week.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Somebody once said it ain’t over till it’s over, but that doesn’t seem to apply to the race for mayor of Los Angeles.

In the latest ballot count Monday evening, Karen Bass widened her lead over Rick Caruso, continuing a trend in which she’s winning more than 60% of mail-in votes. The working theory among pollsters is that the more conservative voters went to the polls, while younger and more liberal voters cast the majority of the remaining uncounted votes.

“These results mean Karen Bass is on track to win the mayoralty of Los Angeles,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.


She now leads by nearly 30,000 votes, and unless there’s a dramatic turnaround, we’ll soon be calling her Mayor Bass.

And Caruso would go down as the man who spent an astounding $100 million of his own money, or 13 times the amount spent by his opponent, but still came up short.

I can’t say I’m surprised at this outcome, but I’d be lying if I told you I knew all along that Bass would prevail. And I don’t think she knew, either.

Rep. Karen Bass has upped her lead over businessman Rick Caruso to more than 29,000 votes in the L.A mayor’s race.

Nov. 14, 2022

Earlier this year, after Caruso jumped in, I met with Bass at the Community Coalition nonprofit she co-founded in South Los Angeles, and she said she wasn’t sure she’d make the runoff.

Oh no, I told her. She’d make the runoff. I even thought she’d win the general, but the X-factor was the billionaire Caruso’s bank account.


And to be fair, Caruso had a couple of other things going for him.

First, in a city fed up with corruption, homelessness and other deeply entrenched challenges, he had the appeal of a wildly successful businessman/outsider, even though he had served on a couple of commissions. Second, he was a pretty good campaigner, he was relentless, and he seemed to love traversing the city.

Everywhere Caruso went, it’s like he was shooting scenes from the movie of his life, schmoozing with everybody he met and smiling like he was on top of the world. I think he genuinely had such a good time, he may not regret spending a fortune. It was good marketing for the Grove, at least.

No doubt, there were voters who were turned off by what they considered his attempt to buy the election. You couldn’t turn on your television or fire up your computer without seeing a Caruso commercial and hearing him say he was a proud Democrat, ready to serve.

“Caruso completely overplayed his hand,” said longtime strategist Garry South, noting that Caruso had changed his party affiliation in advance of his run for mayor. “A proud Democrat for 15 minutes would have been more accurate.”

But others looked at Caruso and saw success, with money as proof. I was with him in Highland Park when a truck driver told Caruso he was voting for him because he wouldn’t be beholden to campaign contributors.

In Van Nuys, I asked him if he ever gets home at the end of a long day and regrets having promised he would house 30,000 homeless people in 300 days, a feat so improbable, I’d bet $100 million he couldn’t pull it off, if only I had the money.

No, he said. He was going to make it happen.

I’m sure that grand vow won him some votes, but I wonder if it cost him some votes too.

People are tired of problems not being fixed, but they’re also sick of broken promises.

And that means Bass is going to be on the spot.

She didn’t promise to house 30,000 people in 300 days, but she said she’d do 17,000 in her first year in office, a vow that could come back to haunt her.

We all want to see ambitious goals after so many years of disappointment, but I was surprised to see Bass get into the promise game. As someone who began her career in public healthcare, then switched to being an activist serving communities devastated by socioeconomic forces, she knows the roots of homelessness run deep.

How come the count in the race for mayor between Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso is taking so long? And how does the process work? We’ve got answers.

Nov. 14, 2022

I said to her that so much of the trouble we see on the street begins beyond the reach of a city mayor. It begins way upstream, with an economy that lifts the few and buries the many, with wages low and housing costs high, with a mental health system that misses the sickest and a drug epidemic that’s destroying a generation.

Bass said she knew that, but that she also knew some people upstream who might help her fix the ailing city of Los Angeles.

She told me that she doesn’t just know the county supervisors, but she considers them her friends, and that she could get on the phone to Sacramento, where she was Assembly speaker, and to Washington, where she was on President Biden’s list of VP possibilities.

She should extend an olive branch to Caruso, said activist Najee Ali, and make allies out of foes by bringing some of his supporters into her administration.

“I think the challenge before her is monumental and achievable,” said Sean Pleasants, a Yale graduate who ended up homeless and addicted before his recovery. He wants Bass to know the work doesn’t end once someone is housed, because recovery from trauma is a long haul, and people who’ve been through it can help her meet the challenge.

“This is her moment,” civic leader Steve Soboroff recently told me, saying Bass’ resume and collaborative sensibility are a perfect fit for the many tasks at hand.

She’ll now have a chance to prove that’s true, that she can bring healing to a city rocked by a City Hall racism scandal, that she can build policy consensus as progressive politics yank the city to the left, and that she can get the many layers of multiple bureaucracies to work with, rather than against, each other.

That’s a lot to pull off, especially given a framework in which the Los Angeles mayor shares power with a City Council that has had plenty of deficiencies and dysfunction. So we’ll be watching to see if the deeds live up to the words.

Los Angeles is hungry, though, for a fresh start, eager to believe once again that City Hall can work for the people.

Bass would be the first female mayor of Los Angeles.

There’s no good reason it took so damn long.