Representative Karen Bass has made history as Los Angeles’ first female mayor, CNN projects, beating rival Rick Caruso’s more than $104 million in spending to win the race.
The six-term congresswoman, who represents South and West Los Angeles, was able to build a strong coalition of black voters in South Los Angeles and white progressives on the city’s West Side to prevail over the mall mogul. .
In her campaign, Bass emphasized the depth of her political experience and her reputation as a collaborative listener and legislator. He also highlighted his early work as an ER physician assistant and his experience bringing together Black and Latino community organizers in South Los Angeles in the early 1990s to address the root causes of crime and the crack epidemic, work which she did through the non-profit organization she founded, Community Coalition.
Joe Biden had investigated Bass, the then-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, be his running mate in 2020 while helping to lead the negotiations on legislation to create greater police accountability following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
He had earned the respect of his fellow Democrats and his constituents with his decades of experience formulating public policy in areas such as child welfare, foster care and prison reform.
Bass argued that his experience would give him a unique perspective and understanding of homeless issues in Los Angeles. He said his experience in the ER had given him a deep understanding of the problem that his main rivals, including Caruso, did not.
“I have experience in the medical field. I have worked with these patients,” he told CNN in an interview earlier this year. “I spent several years in the Los Angeles County ER. My patients were homeless. My patients were mentally ill. They had substance abuse. I know these systems.
He said he would declare a state of emergency over homelessness that would set a new tone for addressing the problem citywide: “It should be treated like a natural disaster,” he told CNN. “I really hope that we start to build a new spirit in this city, where people understand that this problem is everyone’s problem.”
He portrayed Caruso as a political opportunist who had registered as a Democrat simply to improve his chances of winning office. Pointing to her past donations to conservative Republicans, she and her allies attempted to raise questions about her support for abortion rights; the criticism Caruso said was unfair, unfounded and an attack on her Catholic faith.
Caruso had toyed with the idea of running for mayor for years after serving in other civic roles, including as a city police commissioner and former head of the USC Board of Trustees. One of the biggest hurdles for him was his record as a former Republican turned independent and then a Democrat vying for the top job in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.
But seized with frustration that many of the city’s voters feel about homelessness, crime, and corruption at City Hall, spending tens of millions of dollars of their own money on ads that portray him as a fixer with executive credentials to address those problems and improve the city’s efficiency and responsiveness.
While Bass accused Caruso of trying to buy the mayor’s office while vying to replace term-limited mayor Eric Garcetti, Caruso suggested that she and other “career politicians” had been ineffective and that it would take an outsider to clean up the city’s streets and speed up efforts to house homeless people.
During the campaign, Bass also highlighted her role as a negotiator when she led the California State Assembly after the 2008 financial crisis, making budget decisions that earned her a John F. Kennedy. Profile in Courage Award in 2010. She also made history in that role, becoming the first black woman to serve as the speaker of a state legislature in 2008.
This story has been updated with additional details.