Rep. Karen Bass was still getting used to being called “mayor-elect” Thursday when she stood on the sunny patio of the Wilshire Appel Theater and called out the women’s club that first constructed the building in 1894.
This history-making nature of her ascension, she said, was not something she had time to think about. She was too busy running for office, and now that the race was called, she was still coming to terms with the outcome.
Bass responded when she asked radio host Tavis Smiley earlier Thursday what she accomplished with her broken win. “I’m really focused on getting things up and running, because I only have three weeks which is a crazy amount of time to try and get the management together.”
With her inauguration set for December 12, she told reporters she would release more details about her transition in the coming days, but emphasized that “it won’t be a transition team for three weeks. It will be a transition team that goes into administration after being sworn in.”
She said her first focus upon taking office will be the large homeless camps, looking for ways to identify them and help the people who live in them get shelter or housing. She said the first step would be declaring a state of emergency, which had been a campaign promise.
“We are going to identify very specific areas where we are going to house people and we are going to put out a whole plan to do that,” she said.
Bass told the media and the crowd that “This has been a tough campaign. It’s been a long campaign.” She announced her intention to run for office for the first time in September 2021.
She was visibly relieved that the campaign, which she likened to an “athletic competition,” was over, and was gracious about her opponent Rick Caruso, saying she had “always admired his lifelong commitment to the people of Los Angeles.”
Addressing homelessness by increasing the supply of permanent or temporary housing would be a nagging challenge—one that bewildered her predecessor, Mayor Eric Garcetti, who expanded both but only saw the homeless population grow. Voter anger over the issue was always present on the campaign trail and helped fuel Caruso’s rise.
During the campaign, Bass devised a plan to house 17,000 people in its first year by wringing as much out of the existing system as possible to expand both temporary and permanent housing. This means, in part, the construction of new shelter beds to accommodate about 1,000 people. Its plan also depends on expanding the use of housing vouchers, renting and buying motels and hotels, and other methods.
“I know we’re not going to end homelessness in a year,” she told Smiley. “I should also be able to get rid of most campers—meaning get lodging—. So my focus, especially in the first 100 days, will be to house a percentage of the campers—the most problematic ones—and then prevent them from popping up again because campers don’t happen Overnight. It happens over time. You have one tent, and then you’ll have five tents.”
To make this happen, she’ll need to team up with the troubled city council – still recovering from a scandal that led to the resignation of council president Nori Martinez – which will now have five new members. The transformation taking place also includes a more progressive, ideological, transformation with two new members who ran to the left of the incumbents and beat them.
“I think we’re going to come in a very bold, very aggressive way because we’re bringing in this mandate,” Councilman-elect Hugo Soto Martinez told Spectrum News. The job organizer beat Mitch O’Farrell in a tough race representing an area stretching from Glassell Park to Hollywood.
Voters demand it.
Bass said she plans to go to City Hall on Thursday to meet with Garcetti and City Council President Paul Krikorian.
The congresswoman emerged on the radical left wing of her party, but those days are long behind her. She has mixed activism and pragmatism throughout her career, evolving from a South Los Angeles community organizer to an elected official known for coalition building in both Sacramento and Washington.
“I’m not sure if Bass the community organizer or Bass the pragmatic leader will win in their relationship with the city council,” said Angie Marie Hancock Alfaro, chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California.
She was repeatedly criticized by the left in the mayoral primary, with some longtime allies even lamenting her more moderate positions on policing and enforcement of vagrancy laws.
Gina Viola, a nearly unknown far-left contender, took nearly 7% of the vote in the June primary, garnering support from leftists disappointed by more mainstream candidates. Viola’s primary success was a testament to the strength of that electoral bloc, which was echoed in the electoral achievements of elected councilors Yunes Hernandez and Soto Martínez.
Bass’s critics on the far left were less outspoken during the general election campaign against Caruso, a former Republican.
But that pressure will almost certainly return when she takes office.
“If you look at the outcome of the election, in general, what we’re seeing is a progressive win in Los Angeles, so it would make sense for her to listen to those who do organizing work,” said Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdallah. Abdullah, who had a longstanding relationship with Bass, was highly critical of Bass’ public safety plan and ultimately endorsed Viola in the primary.
The plan is to hire more police officers until the Los Angeles Police Department returns to its authorized strength of 9,700 officers, and Abdallah said she saw Bass as “a mayor who can be pushed and challenged to progressive action much more easily than Caruso.”
However, on this first day since the election was called, the focus of supporters has not yet shifted to these potential challenges. Standing nearby after Bass’ remarks, former Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs, who now lives in Los Angeles and supports her campaign, said he was glad she won. He framed it through the eyes of his one-year-old daughter, who was born after he left office.
He said, “If I can’t be its first mayor, the only other person I want to be is Karen Bass.”