Former Representative Karen Bass became the first woman and second African American person elected as mayor of Los Angeles in November. Her victory over billionaire Rick Caruso came in the aftermath of a racially divisive scandal involving Los Angeles City Council members using racist language while redistricting voting districts. Bass’s win represents a new start for Los Angeles as she kicks off her first year in office by tackling the social issues impacting minority communities in South Los Angeles.
Bass has been a long-time advocate of minority rights, spending much of her professional career advocating on behalf of the poor and the houseless communities. Before engaging in politics, Bass worked as an emergency medicine physician assistant at USC’s School of Medicine. She was a witness to the crack epidemic in southern Los Angeles and its devastating impacts on impoverished Black communities. Bass founded the Community Coalition alongside other organizers in the late 1980s to fight against crime, violence and addiction by building communities fostering social and economic growth. She worked throughout the 1990s alongside African American and Latino organizers to uproot the immediate causes of the crack epidemic and increases in crime.
Bass’ public policy advocacy for minority communities led her to run for state office, and in 2004, she was elected to a state legislature seat representing California’s 47th Assembly district. At the time, she was the only African American woman to hold a seat in the state legislature. During her time as majority whip for the state assembly, Bass served as vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, a caucus created in 1967 to create legislation supporting racial and gender equality as well as assist other groups. She created the first-ever “State of Black California” report, which organized African American Californians to become more proactive in championing minority rights in town halls. This resulted in a comprehensive legislative agenda addressing several issues within Black communities in California.
Bass spent her terms fighting ballots seeking to dismantle programs benefiting African American communities and introducing legislation uplifting other groups of color. Her work investing in African American achievement in California saw her popularity rise, and she used it to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010. She won with over 86% of the vote and was officially inaugurated as a Representative for California’s 33rd district (later changed to the 37th district after redistricting in 2011). While in the House, Bass led several initiatives to pass legislation benefiting marginalized communities across the country. She organized African Americans for Obama in California during President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, which earned her a spot on his national African American Leadership Council after he was re-elected.
In 2019, Bass became Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. As Chair, she campaigned for COVID-19 relief and funding for vaccination efforts for communities most affected by the pandemic. She united the Latino Caucus, the Black Caucus, the Asian Pacific American Caucus and Native American Representatives to pull together resources and funding for impacted communities of color. This included hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated solely to COVID-19 relief. In addition to her accomplishments as Chair, Bass galvanized House support for helping small businesses in Los Angeles. She worked with President Biden to secure billions of dollars in funding to be used on public transportation and road construction through the federal infrastructure bill, garnering more job opportunities in Los Angeles. Bass also continued her fight for the houseless community, and she played a vital role in passing the American Rescue Plan, legislation that devoted billions of dollars of federal spending to housing relief, mortgage relief, housing assistance programs and houselessness.
After announcing her campaign for mayor, Bass worked with her staff to bring African American voters in southern Los Angeles and white progressives in western Los Angeles together in a coalition to defeat Caruso in the general election. Since her inauguration, she has made immense progress on her promises to solve Los Angeles’s houselessness epidemic. She has initiated the “Inside Safe” program, which has relocated 247 individuals experiencing houselessness into temporary shelters over the past two months. In the past week, 40 of these folks were moved into permanent housing as six homeless encampments have been cleared entirely, two of which were the large encampments in Venice and Hollywood. Bass has pledged to secure permanent housing for 17,000 houseless people by the end of her first year in office by using the program to move people into motels and coordinating with other governmental institutions to find a permanent fix.
Bass’s political efforts and policy success have shown her resilience in the face of hardship as she continues to pave her path as the first female mayor of Los Angeles. Her work as mayor will continue to impact the greater good of Los Angeles as she forges ahead to fight the houselessness crisis and advocate for disenfranchised communities.