In Los Angeles, a liberal city who has not elected a Republican mayor in more than two decades, Bass presented himself as the progressive choice. But she also carried the party establishment image, drawing support from Democratic heavyweights such as former President Barack Obama, President Biden and Vice President Harris. At a rally on the eve of the election, Harris, a fellow Californian, praised Bass for “fighting for the people whose votes aren’t in the room, but need to be there.”
Nevertheless, Bass faced a formidable challenge from Caruso, who poured $100 million of his own money into the race, trying to seize Angelenos’ growing frustration with a rise in violent crime.
“She was outscored 10 to 1, but her reputation, connections, experience and base of support proved too much for him to overcome — he would have beaten anyone but Karen Bass,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University Los Angeles. “Her coalition held up against what could have been seen as an overwhelming challenge, not to mention local dissatisfaction with the state of the city.”
Until recently, Caruso was a registered Republican, and his election would have marked a swing to the right for the city. He pledged to expand the city’s police force to record levels and build temporary housing to accommodate 30,000 homeless people in his first 300 days in office. Bass called Caruso’s proposal unrealistic, promising to house about 17,000 people in its first year.
While some of his new party’s biggest names turned him down, Caruso received several high-profile endorsements from celebrities in a city of stars, including Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian, and Katy Perry.
A Santa Barbara native, Perry shared a selfie of her electronic voting for Caruso, saying she voted for him “for a myriad of reasons (see the news) but mainly because Los Angeles is a hot mess.”
On that point, at least, both candidates agreed.
The city’s politics have been plagued by scandal for years, but the latest made international headlines and shook the foundations of Los Angeles’ self-proclaimed identity as a model multi-ethnic metropolis. Last month, a leaked recording showed four of the city’s most powerful Latino leaders belittling colleagues and making racial slurs about a black child, indigenous immigrants and Jewish residents.
The tape led to the resignations of City Council President Nury Martinez and Ron Herrera, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a local political powerhouse. The other two participants, councilors Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, have so far refused to step down. Cedillo was set to step down from office at the end of the year, while de León, who has long harbored greater political ambitions, apologized for his role but said he plans to stay on over objections from leading Democrats in California and beyond .
Even the White House, which rarely gets involved in such local political stuff, weighed in and called on everyone captured on the tape to resign just a day ahead of Biden’s visit to Southern California, where he and Bass appeared in support of her candidacy. .
In the final debate of the campaign, and the only one that followed the release of the recording, Bass and Caruso agreed that councilors should go, but argued over who was better positioned to unite the city in the messy aftermath .
“Those officials need to resign, but that’s not enough,” Bass said. “We need a new direction in LA and new leadership that will make us reject the politics of divide and rule.”
Caruso touted the leaked conversation as another example of shady political dealing in the city — the four leaders discussed how to draw new municipal districts to boost Latino representation, largely to the detriment of black voters.
“They went into a back room to carve up the city for their own special interests, for themselves,” Caruso said during the debate. “The system is broken and it is full of corruption.”
Both said the city needs an independent redistribution commission.
Bass spent years working with some of the figures involved in the tape, and she pointed to the track record of her nonprofit, the Community Coalition, which seeks to unite people across racial and ethnic lines as a model for healing. in the city. The group, known as “CoCo”, was mentioned several times on the recording as a derisive shorthand for black political interests.
But even before the tape surfaced, Los Angeles was wracked with a dizzying array of scandals: a former city councilman sentenced to more than a year in prison for obstructing a corruption investigation; another former member charged in the same investigation; and a third ex-council member charged in a separate corruption scheme.
And the political future of the outgoing mayor, Eric Garcetti, is in limbo, with his nomination to become the US ambassador to India still deadlocked in the Senate over questions whether he knew of sexual assault allegations against a of his former top advisers.
Along with the shadow of these successive crises, Bass will likely face a revamped city council, which appears poised to welcome at least two new members aligned with the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America when the next term begins.
Activist Eunisses Hernandez, who defeated Cedillo in the primary, and labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez, who held a double-digit lead over incumbent Mitch O’Farrell on Wednesday, would join incumbent Progressives Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Nithya Raman to form a new bloc, ideologically to the left of the new mayor.
The 15-member body could get tougher than ever as the new powerful left weighs in on things like a recent ban on homeless camps near schools: the council passed that measure in August over objections from activists and votes against from most liberal members. Harris-Dawson denounced the move, which bans camps within 500 feet of schools and nurseries, as inhumane. Bass supported the restrictions.
The mayor-elect was a speaker of the California Assembly before her time in Congress, tasked with keeping members in line as the state navigated a brutal budget deficit during the Great Recession — an experience of making deals between political ideologies those over the next four years.
“If anyone has the capacity to bring warring factions together, it’s Bass,” Cal State’s Sonenshein said. “Then the question is, can that translate into leadership in this executive position?”
That leadership will be especially important in addressing the homelessness crisis, he added, which has “become emblematic of whether City Hall and government in general can function properly in LA.”
Bass’s election follows the results of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s race, the area’s other marquee this year, in which retired Long Beach police chief Robert Luna defeated the incumbent, Alex Villanueva. The ousted sheriff’s four years in office were defined by his brash leadership style and a series of controversies, including clashes with local leaders and a law enforcement oversight board. His critics say he destroyed the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.
Luna and Bass, two of Southern California’s most prominent elected officials, will take charge of their respective offices at a time when residents of Los Angeles – the city and county – have had enough of their leaders. Their jobs are different, but they will share at least one goal: to restore public confidence.