It’s Official: Karen Bass Enters Race for Mayor

The highly respected U.S. Rep. joins an ever growing field seeking to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti

What started as a rumor and progressed to an expectation is now a definite: U.S. Rep. Karen Bass is running for mayor of Los Angeles in 2022.

She made the announcement in a statement and on Twitter at about 9 a.m. The tweet contained a link to her campaign website.

“With my whole heart, I’m ready. Let’s do this—together,” Bass said. “I’m running for mayor.”

The move instantly shakes up the contest and, given Bass’s meteoric rise in the past year, promises to shine a national spotlight on the race for the city’s most important elected office. It also places added pressure on the shoulders of her four mainstream opponents.

Bass is a six-term congresswoman who represents California’s 37th District. She previously made history as the first Black woman to be speaker of the California Assembly.

Reports that Bass was considering a run first bubbled in early August. The door to her candidacy seemed to swing wide open a few weeks later, when City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas surprised many City Hall watchers by announcing he would not enter the race to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti. Ridley-Thomas and Bass have a working relationship that goes back nearly four decades, and it was believed that Bass would not compete against him.

In the weeks since there has been a groundswell of support for Bass, with many taking to social media and urging her to run.

In the statement, Bass made clear that addressing the city’s homelessness crisis would be a priority. According to a count made before the pandemic, there are more than 41,000 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.

“Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” Bass said in the statement. “I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change—especially in times of crisis.”

The move could be something of homecoming for Bass, who was born and raised in the Venice/Fairfax area. A former nurse’s assistant, in 1990 she launched the South Los Angeles-based social justice nonprofit the Community Coalition in response to the crack cocaine and gang crisis.

She was elected to the state Assembly in 2004, and became Speaker of the panel in 2008. She won her first Congressional election in 2010.

She serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, and in 2019 became chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. After the murder of George Floyd she introduced a bill focused on police reform. She has gained a reputation for intelligence and an ability to build coalitions and work with others.

Those characteristics served her well in a monumental last 15 months. In the summer of 2020 she was on the short list of running mates for Joe Biden. When Biden instead selected Kamala Harris for the post, and in January when Harris became vice president, Bass again was the source of speculation, this time as a possible nominee to fill out Harris’ term in the U.S. Senate. However, Governor Gavin Newsom instead tapped Alex Padilla for the position.

The groundswell of support for Bass and the near-misses of the higher jobs may already be paying off in Los Angeles. In a private poll conducted in late July and early August, 22 percent of likely voters picked Bass as their top choice for mayor. None of the other seven candidates in the survey received more than 6 percent. (It is worth noting that 44 percent of those questioned did not name anyone.)

Bass is the fifth major candidate seeking to succeed Garcetti. City Attorney Mike Feuer entered the race shortly before the onset of the pandemic, and by June 30 had raised $721,000. District 15 City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is also a former LAPD senior lead officer, entered the race this past March, and raised $818,000 by the June reporting deadline.

Two additional contenders entered last week. On September 20, Jessica Lall, the president and CEO of the downtown business and advocacy group the Central City Association, jumped into the race. The next day Kevin de León, the District 14 city councilman and former President pro Tempore of the State Senate, announced his candidacy.

If Bass wins the race, it would be a vastly different job than the one she has now—the mayor has an immense staff and must oversee more than 30 department heads and manage a budget north of $9 billion. In addition to the homelessness crisis, the challenges facing the city include effecting reform in the Los Angeles Police Department, and guiding Los Angeles through the continuing fight against the coronavirus. Complicating all that is a city charter that gives significant power to the City Council.

The primary takes place next June, little more than eight months from now. If no candidate earns more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a November runoff.

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