Column: Bass appears headed to victory. Can she fix L.A.?
Someone once said it’s not over until it’s over, but that doesn’t seem to apply to the Los Angeles mayoral race.
At the last ballot count Monday night, Karen Bass increased her lead over Rick Caruso, continuing a trend of winning more than 60% of the absentee votes. The working theory among pollsters is that the more conservative voters went to the polls, while younger and more liberal voters cast the majority of the remaining untold votes.
“These results mean that Karen Bass is on track to win the Los Angeles mayoralty,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
She now leads by nearly 30,000 votes, and barring a dramatic turnaround, we’ll soon be calling her Mayor Bass.
And Caruso would go down as the man who spent a staggering $100 million of his own money, or 13 times his opponent’s amount, but still came up short.
I can’t say I’m surprised by this result, but I’d be lying if I told you I knew Bass was going to win all along. And I don’t think she knew either.
Earlier this year, after Caruso stepped in, I met with Bass at the nonprofit Community Coalition she co-founded in south Los Angeles, and she said she wasn’t sure she’d make the runoff.
Oh no, I told her. She would make the runoff. I even thought she was going to win the General, but the X factor was billionaire Caruso’s bank account.
And to be fair, Caruso had a few other things going for him.
First, in a city fed up with corruption, homelessness, and other entrenched challenges, he had the appeal of a highly successful businessman/outsider, despite having served on a few commissions. Second, he was a pretty good fighter, he was relentless and he seemed to love traversing the city.
Everywhere Caruso went it was like filming scenes from the movie of his life, chatting to everyone he met and smiling like he was the hammer of the world. I think he really had such a good time, he might not regret spending a fortune. At least it was good marketing for the Grove.
No doubt there were voters who were put off by what they believed to be his attempt to buy the election. You couldn’t turn on your television or boot up your computer without watching a Caruso commercial and hearing him say he’s a proud Democrat, ready to serve.
“Caruso totally overdid it,” said longtime strategist Garry South, noting that Caruso had changed his party affiliations before running for mayor. “A proud Democrat for 15 minutes would have been more accurate.”
But others looked at Caruso and saw success, with money as proof. I was with him in Highland Park when a truck driver told Caruso he was voting for him because he wasn’t obligated to make campaign contributions.
In Van Nuys, I asked him if he comes home at the end of a long day and regrets having promised he would shelter 30,000 homeless people in 300 days, an achievement so unlikely I’d bet $100 million that he wouldn’t make it off if I had the money.
No, he said. He would make it.
I’m sure that grand oath got him some votes, but I wonder if it cost him some votes too.
People are fed up with problems not being fixed, but they’re also fed up with broken promises.
And that means Bass will be there.
She hasn’t promised to house 30,000 people in 300 days, but she said she would do 17,000 in her first year in office, a vow she may be catching up with.
We all want to see ambitious goals after so many years of disappointment, but I was surprised to see Bass get into the promise game. As someone who started her career in public health and then became an activist serving communities devastated by socioeconomic forces, she knows the deep roots of homelessness.
I told her that so many problems we see on the street start out of reach of a mayor. It starts far upstream, with an economy that lifts the few and buries the many, with low wages and high housing costs, a mental health system that misses the sickest, and a drug epidemic that is destroying an entire generation.
Bass said she knows that, but also knows some people upriver who could help her fix the ailing city of Los Angeles.
She told me that not only does she know the precinct leaders, she considers them her friends and that she could make calls to Sacramento, where she was speaker for the congregation, and to Washington, where she was on President Biden’s list of VP opportunities.
She should hand Caruso an olive branch, said activist Najee Ali, and make allies out of enemies by bringing some of his supporters into her administration.
“I think the challenge that lies ahead is monumental and doable,” said Sean Pleasants, a Yale graduate who became homeless and dependent before his recovery. He wants Bass to know that work doesn’t end once someone is placed because recovery from trauma is a long road and people who have been through it can help her through the challenge.
“This is her moment,” Steve Soboroff, the civic mayor, recently told me, saying that Bass’ resume and collaborative sensibilities are a perfect match for the many responsibilities at hand.
She will now have a chance to prove that’s true, that she can bring healing to a city rocked by a City Hall racism scandal, that she can build political consensus as progressive politics sweeps the city to the left, and that it can get many layers of multiple bureaucracies to work with each other instead of against each other.
That’s a lot to accomplish, especially given a framework in which the mayor of Los Angeles shares power with a councilman that has had many shortcomings and dysfunctions. So we will see if actions live up to words.
Los Angeles, however, hungers for a fresh start, eager to believe once again that City Hall can work for the people.
Bass would be the first woman mayor of Los Angeles.
There’s no good reason why it took so damn long.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-15/lopez-column-big-lead-for-bass Column: Bass appears headed to victory. Can she fix L.A.?