By ERIC HE
LOS ANGELES – Karen Bass, in her first speech as Los Angeles’ mayor-elect, pledged Thursday to begin addressing the city’s homelessness crisis immediately and acknowledged that the historical significance of being the first woman and second Black person to lead the city was “sinking in.”
“When you do make history, it means that you have extra responsibility,” said Bass, speaking outside the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in front of a crowd of supporters. “You always have to make sure that you maintain excellence in every step of the way.”
Bass, invoked the late Rep. John Lewis in describing how she would approach running the nation’s second-largest city.
“John Lewis used to always say when he was facing a difficult situation: `If you couldn’t feel like you knew how to solve a problem, then it is your responsibility to make a way out of no way,”‘ Bass said. “That’s the spirit that drove me to run for mayor, and it’s the spirit through which I will govern.”
Bass, who has represented Los Angeles in the state Assembly and in Congress, will inherit leadership of a city grappling with a scandal that has embroiled City Hall for the past month, after three council members and a top county labor official took part in a recorded conversation in October 2021 that included racist comments and attempts to manipulate redistricting.
Combined with concerns over homelessness, crime and cost of living, “people are just the most pessimistic I’ve seen Angelenos in basically a decade and a half — since the Great Recession,” according to Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University.
Bass pledged to address each one. She said she would keep a campaign promise and declare a state of emergency over the homelessness crisis on day one. In an interview Thursday morning with KBLA’s Tavis Smiley, she said she would house more than 17,000 people experiencing homelessness in her first year. On crime, Bass sought to create an Office of Community Safety that doesn’t involve law enforcement — and increase investments in “prevention, intervention and the services to prevent crime in the first place.”
“The people of Los Angeles have sent a clear message: It’s time for change and it’s time for urgency,” Bass said.
Bass stressed that she would “not accept corruption or cronyism,” nor would she tolerate “the sleight of hand or shuffling problems around.”
“I will not accept the notion that this is the way it’s always been done,” Bass said. “If you tell me that this is the way it’s always been done and that means that we’re supposed to continue to do it this way — and we know it’s not working … that will not be acceptable.”
Bass, who takes office Dec. 12, has not announced a chief of staff or transition team yet, but said her transition team would likely stay on permanently in her administration. Responding to a question about the Latino community, Bass said her administration would reflect Los Angeles — which is approximately 50% Latino.
Bass offered praise for her opponent, billionaire developer Rick Caruso after a contentious campaign, welcoming his supporters in “every aspect of my administration” and adding that she looked forward to working with him in the future. Bass prevailed despite spending around $9 million on her campaign compared to over $100 million by Caruso.
“Our campaign was a people-powered campaign,” Bass said. “I relied on decades of experience and decades of relationships.”
Bass, 69, grew up in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement with three brothers in the Venice and Fairfax neighborhoods. She was drawn to community activism after watching the movement on television, volunteering for Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign when she was 14.
Her organizing career began in 1990, when she founded Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles social justice group in response to the crack cocaine crisis.
In 2004, Bass was the only Black woman in the Legislature when she was elected to the Assembly. Four years later, she became the first Black woman to lead the chamber. Bass was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010.
Bass said on KBLA that she kept herself focused during the campaign by thinking about what the Black community has been through historically, and then referenced Caruso’s advertising blitz.
“I always think about our ancestors and what we’ve been through,” Bass said. “That makes you go: `Look, I can do this.’ I mean, they’re TV ads. Nobody’s physically assaulting me. But I keep my eyes on the prize, and the prize are our folks.”