(Bloomberg) — It was a tough fight for Karen Bass to win the tight race to become the first woman and second Black mayor of Los Angeles. Now the job is more difficult to bring together a city facing a racism scandal, a worsening homelessness crisis and rising crime rates.
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Bass, a six-term Democratic congressman, won the city’s mayoral race, defeating real estate billionaire Rick Caruso, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Bass will join a growing group of black women leading major US cities, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. When Bass is sworn in on Dec. 12, a total of 30 female mayors will be among those leading one of the nation’s 100 most populous cities, according to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. .
“Those are cities that really demonstrate the ability of Black women to lead at these highest executive levels, as well as the impact they can have on policymaking,” said Kelly Dittmar, director of research at CAWP. “Obviously the mayor of Los Angeles plays a central role in California politics as well as national politics — so this is a site where we’re really talking about a lot of political power.”
Bass, 69, is no stranger to breaking political ground. She has served as a Democratic congresswoman since 2011, after six years in the California legislature, including two as assembly speaker, the first Black woman to hold that position in any state. A native of Los Angeles, she also worked as an organizer in South Los Angeles to tackle the drug epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. to prevent and respond urgently to crime and Los Angeles will no longer be affordable for working families,” Bass said Thursday in her first remarks as mayor-elect.
Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, believes Bass will face pressure from both progressives and moderates to enact their opposing visions of change. The rise of Caruso, a former Republican-turned-Democrat, represented a shift to the right in the reliably left-leaning city.
“There’s a large group of Angelenos who feel that the liberal Democratic coalition or the Democratic regimes that have dominated L.A. politics right now don’t have it together when it comes to homelessness,” Guerra said.
Sharon Wright Austin, author of the upcoming book “Political Black Girl Magic: The Elections and Governance of Black Female Mayors,” said a new political force is emerging.
“It was Black women who organized civil rights protests and later political movements, but now we’re seeing Black women running for office themselves,” said Austin, a political science professor at the University of Florida. “The government experience they have gained, sometimes under the mentorship of previous Black mayors, and they are qualified to serve as mayors themselves.”
It is the second largest city in the USA, Los Angeles, where there are about 4 million people. About half of the population is Hispanic or Latino, and about 9% of residents are Black. As in other cities, black people make up a disproportionate number of the homeless Local Authority population — one of the city’s most intractable issues. Bass promised to shelter 17,000 homeless people in the first year. She plans to appoint a homelessness chief and end the popular encampments in the city.
In her new post, Bass will face a city grappling with renewed racial tension after three members of the Los Angeles City Council were caught making racist comments in a leaked recording, leading to the resignation of its president. The other two council members refused calls to resign.
Austin expects Bass to be more popular with fellow voters than Tom Bradley, who was the first black mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993. Already they have said they want change: at least half a dozen lost official their bids for re-election, which proved to be a “significant change,” Guerra said. In one case, scandal-plagued Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva lost widely to Robert Luna, a former police chief backed by the state’s top Democrats.
“To some extent, the voters cleaned house for her,” Guerra said. “She needs to have a reform agenda that people can trust and believe represents LA’s future values.”
(Updates with statements from Bass in the sixth section.)
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