Column: Bass knows she has her work cut out for her

A few weeks ago, while traveling around town with Karen Bass, I asked her if she was looking forward to finishing her long commute. She didn’t mind the flights between Los Angeles and the capital, the congresswoman said, because she used the time to read and do homework.

Now that she’s elected mayor, I don’t know how she’s going to earn that kind of downtime. It’s easy to get stuck in traffic in LA, but not for six hours straight. The mayoral election was a tough blow, but as he defeated Rick Caruso, Bass knows the hard part is just beginning.

“Tonight, 40,000 Angelenos will sleep without a home, and five may not wake up,” Bass said in a victory speech Thursday morning, just three weeks before he took office as LA’s first woman mayor.

Yes, tackling homelessness will be all consuming. But that’s not half yet.

“A lot of Angelenos don’t feel safe in their neighborhood,” she continued. “And families have been priced out of their communities. That needs to change. And so my message to the people of Los Angeles is: we will prevent and respond to crime urgently, and Los Angeles will no longer be unaffordable for working families.”

Those were some colossal promises in a city with staggering income inequality and a lack of affordable housing. But the sun was shining on a beautiful day in mid-city LA, and it felt a little like baseball spring practice when you can let yourself believe for a moment that great things are achievable no matter the odds.

That’s exactly the message the city wants to hear, and Bass’ audience of staff, campaign workers and admirers cheered her on. The celebration for the city’s first woman mayor was fittingly held at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, built almost a century ago by the Ebell of Los Angeles, the philanthropic institution founded by and for women in 1894.

“It is with a special feeling in my heart and with thoughts of my mother and my daughters and of all the women in this city that I stand before you in this place as the next Mayor of Los Angeles,” Bass said.

Christian Entezari of the California Black Women’s Democratic Club called the day “incredibly meaningful,” a “culmination of communities coming together to improve Los Angeles.” It’s a very good day for the city.”

Entezari said homelessness is a key concern for her, and she noted that Black people were disproportionately high in the homeless population.

“Their approach isn’t just to house people,” Entezari said of Bass. “It’s a holistic approach that addresses the whole person and the reasons they ended up homeless.”

As Bass gave her speech, I noticed a supporter dashing through the crowd to get closer to the action. I later met with Sade Elhawary, 34, who said she is the engagement strategist for Youth for Bass.

“Young people breed other young people,” Elhawary said, so the strategy was to organize those who were already in the Bass camp and encourage them to recruit their peers.

That was a challenge early in elementary school, Elhawary said, because many young people didn’t think Bass was progressive enough on climate change and other issues. But in general, when it came to Caruso, more young people came on board.

Otis Wheeler, one of the Elhawarys Youth for Bass volunteers, said that a core group slowly “grew from 10 to 20 to 30 to 40 people who showed up to practically every event and then brought their friends with them.”

“And Karen was nice enough to come up to a lot of them and talk to us,” said Wheeler, 21. “A big reason I got more involved was because Karen really felt like she mattered was what we had to say” about housing affordability, climate change and public transport.

“Young people are usually ignored in politics, especially local politics, especially in LA,” said Scott Anglim, 21, another Bass volunteer. “And for the first time in my life, I’ve seen a community-level candidate who really seemed to care about the issues that concern me.”

On election day, Caruso led the early count. But as mail-in ballots were tabulated and voting updated, Bass dominated and moved ahead, and one theory is that many of those mail-in ballots were filled out by young progressives.

While young people rallied behind Bass, voters in the San Fernando Valley went the other way. The map, as Los Angeles has chosen, is almost like a snapshot of two different cities, with the valley shaded for Caruso and Bass dominating the west side, as well as central, south and northeast LA

The coalition builder cut out her work for her.

“My message to Caruso constituents is that I welcome them to every aspect of my administration,” Bass said at Ebell. “One thing about Rick Caruso is that he cares about Los Angeles. The theme of his campaign was love for Los Angeles. … I would welcome a relationship to work with him in the future.”

The fastest way for Bass to win voters who favor Caruso would be to improve the city’s work in crime prevention, housing, sanitation, and sidewalk and road repair.

And to deliver on their promise to make rapid progress on homelessness. She said she would organize agencies and resources more effectively and leverage her connections in Sacramento and Washington. She has to prove that.

“I will not accept corruption or nepotism. I will not accept sleight of hand or push problems around,” she said in her victory speech.

This is good.

But there’s more to her job than chasing the crooks out of City Hall and getting a fair tax refund.

This world-class city needs a world-class leader—someone to restore pride, inspire us to rethink our relationships with one another, and reinvent our potential as global innovators in transportation, energy, business and the environment.

I think Bass addressed that in her victory speech.

“This is my home and I am ready to serve with all my heart,” she said.

“And my promise to you is that I will hit the ground running on day one. Los Angeles is the greatest city in the world and I know if we come together, if we hold each other accountable, if we focus on being the best in who we are and what we can achieve, we’re creating better neighborhoods and a better one today future for our children.” Column: Bass knows she has her work cut out for her

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