Editorial: What L.A. needs from Mayor Karen Bass
Congratulations to Karen Bass, Los Angeles’ next mayor and the first woman to serve in that role. Condolences as well for a difficult job ahead. Bass will inherit a sharply divided city in upheaval by political scandals and seemingly intractable problems, like housing affordability and homelessness.
While ballots are still being counted, Bass now has a big enough lead that the race was called Wednesday by the Associated Press. The results showed Bass has 53% of the vote and a 46,000-ballot lead, which has been growing over the last week. Her victory over billionaire businessman Rick Caruso is not entirely surprising — she won the June primary by 7 points. But recent polling suggested the race was a toss-up, in part because Caruso had blanketed the airwaves with ads and put many paid door-knockers on the streets. In the end, it wasn’t that close.
The outcome of this race is a reminder that money often doesn’t equal election success. Caruso spent more than $100 million of his own fortune on his campaign, more than 11 times what Bass’ campaign spent. He joins a long line of wealthy individuals who have opened their wallets to try to win elected office, only to come up short. It’s satisfying to see that big money doesn’t necessarily turn elections and that voters make their own decisions.
With the campaigning over, the governing begins. And Bass will take the helm of a city in desperate need of leadership and direction. She will need to quickly show residents that she is in charge, and she is ready to make change. She can start by appointing a transition team with both City Hall insiders and outsiders who have a track record of reforming city governance. She and that team can start the work now of streamlining housing funding, approvals and construction, so Bass can start delivering on her campaign promises quickly.
Throughout the campaign, Bass and Caruso were often in agreement on how to address L.A.’s biggest challenges, but they differed in the scale of their promises, their tone and their priorities.
They both supported hiring more police officers to address residents’ concerns over crime, but Caruso wanted to expand the Los Angeles Police Department to 11,000 officers. Bass wants to have an authorized force of 9,700 officers and spend more on crime prevention programs and hire more civilian employees so officers can return to patrol. (There are currently fewer than 9,300 officers, and recruitment has been slow.)
Caruso pledged to get 30,000 homeless people into some kind of shelter in 300 days. Bass said she’d find interim housing or permanent housing for 17,000 people in her first year.
Voters largely backed pro-housing ballot measures and rejected measures aimed at making it hard to build in communities.
We found some of Caruso’s pledges hyperbolic, but Bass, too, set high targets that will be challenging to reach, particularly if the state and federal money that has flowed in recent years dries up in an economic downturn. Bass has deep relationships in the state and federal government she can tap, thanks to her years in Congress and the California Legislature. She also has experience leading through difficult times. She was state Assembly speaker when the Great Recession hit and California leaders had to slash spending to keep the state afloat financially.
Bass gave up her seat in Congress to run for mayor. While Los Angeles may be friendlier terrain than Washington, where her fellow House Democrats will now be in the minority, Bass still faces big challenges at home. She’ll be entering a City Hall still in turmoil from the most recent political scandal and where a new, more progressive faction is gaining power on the City Council.
Bass, who some considered too left-leaning to be President Biden’s pick for vice president, could end up being a moderate mayor who butts heads with some council colleagues over matters of police hiring and sidewalk encampments. But that’s not likely to help the city. Instead, she should lean into her consensus-builder reputation to find the middle ground on some of the trickiest issues. Los Angeles is still a city divided over how to solve the housing and homelessness crises, stop rising crime and ensure city services are distributed equitably. We need a leader who can unite the city for a brighter future.
Over her years of public service, Bass has shown herself to be a pragmatist who adjusts to the facts on the ground to get work done. She will be tested from her first day on the job, and we believe she can rise to the challenge and lead Los Angeles to a healthier, safer, more sustainable future.
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