Karen Bass’s L.A. mayoral run reflects a political career of progressive leadership

·5 min read

OPINION: David A. Love writes that Rep. Bass has a long-standing commitment to such causes important to the Black community, protecting the rights of children in foster care and poverty

Is Los Angeles ready for a Black woman as mayor? U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) recently announced her campaign launch for mayor of L.A., shaking up the race to lead that city and placing the spotlight on the Black lawmaker’s political career.

If elected, Bass would become the first Black woman to lead Los Angeles and only the second African American mayor. Five-term mayor Tom Bradley —who was in office from 1973 until 1993 — was the first Black mayor of a predominantly white city in America.

Rep. Karen Bass thegrio.com
Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” said Bass. “I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change — especially in times of crisis. Los Angeles is my home.”

Rep. Bass, a six-term member of Congress, received national attention when she was being considered as a possible vice presidential running mate with Joe Biden in 2020. The California lawmaker had introduced Biden as Obama’s vice presidential nominee at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Of course, the number two spot went to then-Sen. Kamala Harris, also a Californian.

At the time, Bass was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and aside from her long record of service in government, shared with Biden an experience with family tragedy and loss: In 2006, her daughter and son-in-law were killed in a car accident.

“I had this moment,” Bass told The Atlantic, “where I had to come to grips with the fact that losing my daughter and son-in-law was always going to be a part of the narrative of who I am.”

Rep. Karen Bass thegrio.com
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference on the House East Front Steps on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

From the start, Bass was involved in political activism and progressive causes. As a teenager, she volunteered for Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign, and in the 1970s Bass volunteered with the Venceremos Brigade, a pro-Cuban group that organized trips for leftwing Americans to travel to Cuba. Bass traveled to Cuba eight times in the 1970s. It was a time when many in the Black community — including the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement — found solidarity with Cuba, and in some cases, Black activists and political prisoners sought refuge in the Caribbean country.

Bass was also active on issues plaguing the Black community. Thirty years ago, she founded Community Coalition, a community-based organization seeking solutions to socio-economic problems such as poverty, crime, and drug dependence, but sought to build people up rather than tear them down and criminalize them.

In the Golden State, Bass would rise to prominence and leadership. With a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Southern California, Bass was elected to the California Assembly and was appointed Majority Whip the following year. In 2008, Bass became speaker of the California Assembly.

The welfare of children has been a top priority for the woman who wants to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. Under her tenure as a state legislator, Bass founded the California Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care. Further, during her tenure in Congress, she has founded the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth to protect the rights of children in foster care.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speak briefly to reporters as they exit the office of Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) following a meeting about police reform legislation on Capitol Hill May 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Bass’s commitment to reform was front and center in recent months when she played a leadership role in police reform and accountability and was the chief steward of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House of Representatives yet foundered in the Senate. Bass negotiated for months with her counterparts Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (D-S.C.) before negotiations stalled on a bipartisan agreement.

Bass responded when the Los Angeles Times asked her if she feels responsible for the failure of the George Floyd Act and whether it would stain her legacy or the legacies of Booker and Scott.

“I could care less about that. What I care about is the fact that on any given day about three people die at the hands of the police. That’s what I care about, “ Bass said. “I care about delivering for my community. I care about doing everything I can to prevent the deaths of people or the abuse of people. I’m not concerned about the other — at all.”

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove

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