Endorsement: Karen Bass for Los Angeles mayor
Los Angeles desperately needs, and will soon get, new leadership. No elected office is more important than mayor; this is the person Angelenos look to in a crisis, who can set the tone of the political discourse and should act as the moral compass for city policy.
It’s never an easy job, but this is an especially challenging moment for L.A.’s next mayor. The public feels pessimistic and angry. There is frustration over homelessness policy, fear about rising crime rates, and now an ugly scandal that has rocked City Hall and damaged decades of hard-fought progress in building racial solidarity. Three City Council members were caught on an audio recording making racist and derogatory comments about colleagues and constituents and plotting how to maintain their political power at the expense of Black and other communities.
This is a time and a job that calls for the skills of Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who has spent her career working to bring people together, bridge racial divides and work for the betterment of communities. For the June primary, The Times endorsed Bass because she is an extraordinarily qualified and mission-driven leader. She is the still the best choice to be L.A.’s next mayor.
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Bass is already doing the work of trying to repair the damage caused by leaked racist, us-versus-them remarks by Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, made in a private meeting last year with L.A. County Federation of Labor leader Ron Herrera. She convened a meeting Tuesday for community leaders and elected officials to begin airing concerns raised by the recording and to strengthen the multiracial coalitions that could be fractured by the scandal. The city’s leaders cannot work together to fix problems without trust, understanding and a common mission.
This is a return to Bass’ political roots in organizing. In 1990, during the crack epidemic and crime wave, Bass helped form the Community Coalition to organize Black and Latino residents in South Los Angeles to press leaders to address the health, social and economic issues in their neighborhoods. And it’s a continuation of her two decades in government, where Bass developed a reputation among colleagues in Congress and the state Legislature as a thoughtful, collaborative and pragmatic leader, who rises above the egos and turf battles.
Bass is running against developer Rick Caruso, who is best known for building the Grove and other luxury malls. He’s poured more than $60 million of his personal fortune into his campaign (10 times what Bass has spent) and has hired hundreds of people to knock on doors to promote his candidacy. Caruso has tried to portray Bass as the insider, even though she’s never worked in City Hall, and himself as the outsider, even though previous mayors have appointed him to commissions overseeing the Department of Water and Power and the Los Angeles Police Department.
Throughout his campaign, with its “Caruso Can” slogan, he’s pitched himself as a mayor who could single-handedly shape up city government. He would “demand” assistance from the governor, Legislature and federal government to fund shelters and homeless services, which is not likely to endear him to his new partners in government. He also said earlier in the campaign that he would make it “mandatory” for the independent city attorney to prosecute low-level crimes, which a mayor cannot do. (Now he says he would “work closely” with the city attorney.)
With an auditor and CPA’s zeal for numbers and transparency, Kenneth Mejia is the best candidate to be L.A.’s next city controller.
Some critics say Bass is too close to the City Hall establishment and won’t challenge the status quo. Her record shows otherwise. She’s made hard choices and crossed allies for the greater good. For example, when Bass was Assembly speaker during the Great Recession, she found herself trying to save the state from financial ruin by cutting the kinds of social, health and education programs that she pushed for as a community advocate. As a member of Congress, Bass helped write the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was an important effort to address decades of racial inequity in policing, despite the federal government having little authority over local police agencies and considering that even some Democrats in her caucus were reluctant to take on policing reform.
Bass is certainly the most experienced public official in the race, and that’s a point in her favor. Governing a city the size and complexity of Los Angeles is difficult, particularly because the mayor has limited powers and relies on the cooperation of the City Council and county and state governments to get big things done such as ending homelessness. Caruso can’t buy cooperation or demand partnership; it’s earned.
Bass’ record of accomplishment, her deep relationships in the city and her drive to address the root causes behind the problems are essential now after decades of inaction. Los Angeles needs a leader who can bring Angelenos together and who has a holistic vision for a better city. Karen Bass is that person.
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