Karen Bass could be the first woman elected L.A. mayor

For the past 241 years, the city of Los Angeles has been ruled by men.

A sea captain. A journalist. A Confederate officer. Of the dozens of doctors, businessmen, bankers, and ranchers who have run LA, only one was black and a small handful were Latino.

Next Tuesday, a woman has a fighting chance to lead the City of Angels.

The question is, do voters care?

“No,” said Beverly Silverstein, 72, while handing out Halloween candy outside her duplex in Carthay Square on Monday night. Silverstein endorses Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), and what she cares about is Bass’ character.

“I know Karen — I know her heart, her values,” the grandmother continued. “She’s always been a civic since we were in high school at Hamilton High.”

Support for the congresswoman runs deep in this historic Mid-City neighborhood, a trick-or-treat destination where campaign posters and “In This House We Believe” signs josled for pride of place among plastic skeletons and polyester spider webs.

Silverstein, her son Joshua, and daughter-in-law Cynthia all planned to cast their voices for Bass.

But even the candidate’s most staunch supporters disagreed on how much gender influenced her vote.

“I think it’s important,” Joshua Silverstein, 41, piped up from under his floor-length black shroud. “It is important.”

“But that doesn’t cross my mind,” his mother said. “She is an amazing person and we would be so blessed to have her as our mayor.

“But the fact that she is First Woman of color is important.”

And on it went. Laila Silverstein, 10, agreed with her father. Cynthia Silverstein, 38, has made a commitment to her mother-in-law. Shel Silverstein, 3, had never asked herself that question.

Angelenos also seem contradictory – and in some cases indifferent – although many feel Bass’s choice would be an overdue first.

“It’s not time anymore,” said Bobby Blatt, 87, who was handing out candy on her porch a few blocks away. “For a city as liberal and open as LA, [electing a woman] is important. But it is also symbolic.”

That’s because the Los Angeles Mayor shares significant powers with the City Council as well as the all-female LA County Board of Supervisors.

Whether the voice goes to Bass or her adversary, billionaire developer Rick Caruso, the city’s future figurehead will have far less power than New York’s Eric Adams or Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot.

Still, Los Angeles City Hall remains largely male-dominated. Only a fifth of the current city council is female, compared to more than half of New York city council members and a third of Chicago city council members.

“When I first organized the Women’s March in Los Angeles in 2017, there was only one female city councilman,” said now-disgraced former council chair Nury Martinez, Emiliana Guereca, president of the Women’s March Foundation. “That was sad for me – I live in the most progressive city and we don’t manage to elect more women to local offices.”

For a small minority of voters, that failure alone is reason enough to vote for Bass.

“It just means a lot to me that she’s a black woman and also to be the first woman to be that,” said Nadia Groomes, 20, of South LA, who was preparing to go to work at the Grove, the popular, on Tuesday morning Mid-City Mall owned by Caruso. “I feel like a lot of things can be different just because of her commitment to us.”

Others said the identity is irrelevant amid a deepening homelessness crisis, skyrocketing rents, rising public safety concerns and patchy public transport.

“I’m a feminist, but I don’t vote for her just because she’s a woman,” said Hanaa Zizi, 23, of Koreatown, who planned to vote in Tuesday’s election for the first time.

Although she acknowledged that “it’s good for little girls to see women in leadership roles,” Zizi said, she was more concerned about how the candidates would address the issues she faced every day.

“Voters don’t tend to prioritize candidates just because they break a barrier,” said Amanda Hunter, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which studies women in politics. “Voters prioritize experience and issue expertise.”

Recent political history has shown that experience and expertise do not always correspond to identity.

Former city controller Wendy Greuel narrowly lost her bid to become LA’s first female mayor in 2013, in a campaign backed by Emily’s List and some of California’s most prominent politicians.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, only the fifth woman to serve on the US Supreme Court since 1789, helped herald the end of federal abortion law. And Martinez, whose racist comments on a leaked recording turned City Hall upside down, never missed an opportunity to tout her good faith as a wife and mother.

On the other hand, the sudden reversal of Roe vs. Wade this summer has proven uniquely energizing for female voters. Bass has decades of evidence supporting abortion rights in her state assembly and in the US Congress. Her supporters have repeatedly hammered Caruso, a former Republican, for his blurry position on the issue.

Proposal 1, which would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, could also help win voters for the congresswoman, experts say.

“It gives voters energy because all of this is on the ballot,said Guereca. “If we look at the bigger picture, we look at who is mobilizing voters, who is knocking on voter doors, and those are women. Women across LA County and across the country have suffered as a result of the fall of Roe v. Wade voters mobilized.”

Indeed, even opponents of the voting measure say it is likely to give Liberal candidates a boost amid a wave of support for abortion access.

But in a city that has long served as a haven for those performing and seeking the procedure, abortion is unlikely to be crucial. And while Caruso’s shifting allegiances have helped nudge staunch Democratic voters like Theresa Anderson, 62, toward Bass, they’ve proven less scathing for newer voters in the San Fernando Valley, where polls show a neck-and-neck race .

“Gender didn’t matter because at the end of the day you want the most qualified candidate to run LA,” Guereca said. “The fact that she is a woman is very important to her mebut for the voters, we should vote for the most qualified candidate.”

Still, for the Silversteins, Bass’s identity was inseparable from their qualifications.

“Representation is important,” said Joshua Silverstein. “The political voices in this country have long been men – white men in particular – and I think it’s about time [a different] Perspective.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-05/2022-california-election-la-karen-bass-could-be-first-woman-mayor Karen Bass could be the first woman elected L.A. mayor

Alley Einstein

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