Column: Amid the victory cheers, Bass knows she has her work cut out for her

A close-up view of Mayor-elect Karen Bass
Mayor-elect Karen Bass, seen on Nov. 4 at a farmers market at Pico Union Project in Los Angeles.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A few weeks ago, while traveling across the city with Karen Bass, I asked if she was looking forward to quitting her long commute to work. The congresswoman said she didn’t mind the flights between Los Angeles and the nation’s capital, because she used the time to read and do her homework.

Now that she’s been elected mayor, I don’t know how she’s going to carve out that kind of downtime. It’s easy to get stuck in traffic in L.A., but not for six hours at a stretch. Running for mayor was a tough schlep, but as the winner over Rick Caruso, Bass knows the hard part has just begun.

“Tonight, 40,000 Angelenos will sleep without a home, and five might not wake up,” Bass said Thursday morning in a victory speech, just three weeks before taking office as L.A.’s first female mayor.


Yep, getting a handle on homelessness will be all-consuming. But that’s not the half of it.

“Many Angelenos do not feel safe in their neighborhoods,” she went on. “And families have been priced out of their communities. This must change. And so, to the people of Los Angeles, my message is, we’re going to prevent and respond urgently to crime, and Los Angeles will no longer be unaffordable for working families.”

Those were some colossal promises in a city with staggering income inequality and affordable housing shortages. But the sun was shining on a gorgeous day in Mid-City L.A., and it felt a bit like baseball spring training, when you can let yourself believe for a moment that great things are achievable, no matter the odds.

That’s exactly the message the city wants to hear, and Bass’ audience of staffers, campaign volunteers and admirers cheered her on. The celebration for the city’s first female mayor was fittingly held at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, built nearly a century ago by the Ebell of Los Angeles, the philanthropic institution founded by and for women in 1894.

“It is with a special feeling in my heart and with the thoughts of my mother and my daughters and all of the women in this city that I stand before you in this place as the next mayor of Los Angeles,” Bass said.

Christian Entezari, of the California Black Women’s Democratic Club, called the day “incredibly momentous,” a “culmination of communities coming together for the betterment of Los Angeles. It’s a very good day for the city.”


Entezari said homelessness is a key issue for her, and she noted that the number of Black people in the homeless population is disproportionately high.

“Her approach is not just housing people,” Entezari said of Bass. “It’s a holistic approach that addresses the whole person and the reasons they have fallen into homelessness to begin with.”

When Bass made her speech, I noticed one supporter scooting through the crowd to get closer to the action. Later, I caught up with Sade Elhawary, 34, who said she was the engagement strategist for Youth for Bass.

“Young people bring out other young people,” Elhawary said, so the strategy was to organize those who were already in the Bass camp and encourage them to recruit their peers.

That was challenging early in the primary, Elhawary said, because to a lot of young people, Bass didn’t seem progressive enough on climate change and other issues. But in the general, when it was down to Caruso, more young people came on board.

Otis Wheeler, one of Elhawary’s Youth for Bass volunteers, said a core group slowly grew “from 10 to 20 to 30 to 40 people who were showing up to basically every event and then bringing out their friends.”


“And Karen was lovely enough to show up to a lot of them and speak to us,” said Wheeler, 21. “A big reason I got more involved was that Karen really felt like she cared about what we had to say” about housing affordability, climate change and public transit.

“Young people are usually ignored in politics, especially local politics, especially in L.A.,” said Scott Anglim, 21, another Bass volunteer. “And for the first time in my life, I saw a candidate at the municipal level who seemed to really care about the issues that concern me.”

On election day, the early vote count had Caruso in the lead. But as mail-in ballots were tabulated and the vote was updated, Bass dominated and pulled ahead, and one theory is that many of those mail-in ballots were filled out by young progressives.

While young people were uniting behind Bass, San Fernando Valley voters went in the other direction. The map of how Los Angeles voted is almost like a snapshot of two different cities, with the Valley shaded for Caruso and Bass dominating on the west side, as well as central, south and northeast L.A.

The coalition builder has her work cut out for her.

“My message to Caruso voters is that I welcome them in every aspect of my administration,” Bass said at Ebell. “One thing about Rick Caruso is that he cares about Los Angeles. The theme of his campaign was for the love of Los Angeles. … I would welcome a relationship to work with him in the future.”

The quickest way for Bass to win over voters who preferred Caruso would be to elevate the city’s work on crime prevention, housing, sanitation, and sidewalk and street repair.


Rep. Karen Bass has just three weeks before she is sworn in as the first woman elected mayor of Los Angeles.

Nov. 17, 2022

And to deliver on her promise of swift progress on homelessness. She said she’d organize agencies and resources more effectively and use her connections in Sacramento and Washington. She has to back that up.

“I will not accept corruption or cronyism. I will not accept sleight of hand or shuffling problems around,” she said in her victory speech.

That’s good, too.

But the job she’s taking on is about more than booting the crooks out of City Hall and delivering a fair return on taxes.

This world-class city needs a world-class leader — someone who restores pride, inspires us to rethink our relationships with one another, and reimagines our potential as a global innovator on transit, energy, the economy and the environment.

I think Bass was getting at that in her victory speech.

“This is my home, and with my whole heart I’m ready to serve,” she said.

“And my pledge to you is that I will hit the ground running Day 1. Los Angeles is the greatest city on Earth and I know if we come together, if we hold each other accountable, if we focus on the best of who we are and what we can achieve, we’ll create better neighborhoods today and a better future for our children.”