What L.A. Mayor Karen Bass means for Black women, California

As I watch Karen Bass receive her flowers for becoming the first woman and only the second black woman to be elected Mayor of Los Angeles, I can’t help but think of how much California has changed in the… has changed in the last two years.

Because in December 2020, I had a lengthy conversation with then-MP Shirley Weber about the “bleak” state of political power for black women in this proudly liberal and diverse state.

At the time she was irritated. Joe Biden, then the President-elect, had elected Kamala Harris as his Vice President, leaving her seat in the US Senate vacant. Governor Gavin Newsom was inclined to (and eventually did) select then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace her.

But Weber and a long list of other black leaders demanded that Newsom choose another black woman — Bass or Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland — instead. The San Diego Democrat told me how hard it is for black women to be elected to positions of real power in California, especially statewide.

And “if you don’t have a seat at the table,” she complained, “then you’re on the menu.”

Back then in California, black women were very much on the menu. But not anymore.

Bass is soon sworn in as mayor of the state’s largest city after defeating billionaire businessman Rick Caruso. At first it seemed to be a close race. Then the ballot papers rolled out.

“This is my home and with all my heart I’m ready to serve and I promise you we’re going to hit the ground running on day one,” Bass said in a statement after she was declared the winner on Wednesday night. “I am honored and humbled that the people have voted me to be the next Mayor of Los Angeles.”

Your win is a big deal. Not just because of the ceilings shaking the 69-year-old congresswoman, but because Bass was victorious despite Caruso spending more than $100 million saturating LA with publicity and sending campaigners door-to-door.

Bass said she received “a lovely phone call” from Caruso and — like me — hopes he “continues his civic engagement in the city we both love.”

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Vice President Kamala Harris cheer on Karen Bass, then an LA mayoral candidate, at UCLA.

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and Vice President Kamala Harris, center, cheer on Karen Bass, then LA mayoral candidate, November 7 at UCLA’s Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center in Westwood.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

On Tuesday, Malia Cohen was officially elected state controller, winning a surprisingly tight race with Republican Lahnee Chen. She will be the first black person to hold this position.

“As your controller, I will ensure our tax dollars address the homelessness crisis, protect our environment, and provide access to health care and reproductive freedom,” Cohen said in a statement. “Let’s build a California where everyone is prosperous.”

And Weber is now California’s secretary of state – appointed by Newsom. These are two black women who hold elected positions nationally, from one when Harris was attorney general and then a US senator.

There’s also Sydney Kamlager, the state senator elected this month to replace Bass in Congress. She joins Lee and longtime MP Maxine Waters.

In San Francisco, Brooke Jenkins kept her job as the San Francisco District Attorney and beat former Police Commissioner John Hamasaki. She was first appointed by Mayor London Breed, another black woman.

In Los Angeles County, Holly Mitchell is a member of the powerful board of directors and could eventually become chairman.

And, of course, Harris is the first woman of black and South Asian descent to serve as the nation’s vice president.

Many of these black women joined Bass on the campaign trail, pushing to get more black women into elected office, just as Weber was so determined to do in 2020. That includes Harris.

“Karen Bass has a long history of always standing with the people and fighting for the people whose voices aren’t in the room but need to be present,” Harris said at UCLA last week. “Karen Bass has always been that. She always will be and that’s why she’s going to be the next mayor.”

But that’s the irony of what has happened since I spoke to Weber in December 2020. Black women are becoming more politically powerful, but black women overall — like far too many people in California — feel more powerless. This is especially true in Los Angeles.

As Black women, we are disproportionately poor, disproportionately homeless, disproportionately underemployed, disproportionately victims of crime, disproportionately monitored and disproportionately lacking access to health care.

representation counts. It is important to take a seat at the table. But not nearly as much as using it to transform the lives of people – all people – as so many black women in elected office have promised.

Bass made that promise again on Wednesday night:

“Los Angeles is the greatest city in the world,” she said in a statement. “I know if we come together, hold each other accountable, and focus on the best of who we are and what we can achieve, we can create better neighborhoods today and a brighter future for our children.”

If she can pull this off, it would be true black girl magic.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-17/karen-bass-mayor-means-black-women-california-los-angeles What L.A. Mayor Karen Bass means for Black women, California

Alley Einstein

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